Parliament is expected to take up a motion for impeaching Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court. We wrote an FAQ on the process of impeachment and the facts of this case for Rediff. See: http://www.rediff.com/news/report/faq-on-impeachment-of-judges/20110816.htm The full text is reproduced below. What is the importance of Parliament's discussion on the Justice Sen issue? The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to discuss a motion for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court. Till date, no judge of the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and High Courts) has been successfully impeached. What is the legal framework regarding impeachment of judges? The Constitution has measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary from executive action. This helps judges give judicial decisions in a free and fair manner without any inducements. The Constitution also provides checks against misbehaviour by judges. It states that a judge may be removed only through a motion in Parliament with a two thirds support in each House. The process is laid down in the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968. How is the motion initiated? What is the process after that? A motion has to be moved by either 100 Lok Sabha members of Parliament or 50 Rajya Sabha MPs. If the motion is admitted, the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha constitutes an inquiry committee. The committee has three members: a Supreme Court judge, a High Court Chief Justice, and an eminent jurist. The Committee frames charges and asks the judge to give a written response. The judge also has the right to examine witnesses. After the inquiry, the committee determines whether the charges are valid or not. It then submits its report. What happens then? If the inquiry committee finds that the judge is not guilty, then there is no further action. If they find him guilty, then the House of Parliament which initiated the motion may consider continuing with the motion. The motion is debated. The judge (or his representative) has the right to represent his case. After that, the motion is voted upon. If there is two-thirds support of those voting, and majority support of the total strength of the House, it is considered to have passed. The process is then repeated in the other House. After that, the Houses send an address to the President asking that the judge be removed from office. Has this process taken place earlier? Yes, there has been one such case. Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court faced such a motion. The inquiry committee found that the charges against him were valid. However, the motion to impeach him did not gather the required support in Lok Sabha. What are the charges against the Justice Sen? There are two charges. He is accused of misappropriating large sums of money which he received as a receiver appointed by the Calcutta High Court. He is also accused of misrepresenting facts in this regard to the High Court. What is the charge of misappropriation? What did the inquiry committee conclude? Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed Receiver in a case by an order of the Calcutta High Court on April 30, 1984. As a Receiver, Justice Sen had the power to collect outstanding debts and claims due in respect of certain goods. The Receiver is required to file and submit for passing, his half yearly accounts in the Office of the Registrar of the High Court. However, Justice Sen did not comply with this rule. As a Receiver, Justice Sen was required to open only one account and not move funds without prior permission. However, the Inquiry Committee found that two separate accounts were opened by Justice Soumitra Sen as Receiver, with ANZ Grindlays Bank and Allahabad Bank. A total sum of over Rs 33 lakh was transferred in these accounts from the sale of the goods which was unaccounted for. Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest. The Inquiry Committee found this claim to be false as well. It was found that the amount transferred to Lynx India Ltd. had been made out of an account opened by Justice Sen in his own name. The Committee concluded that (a) there was a large-scale diversion of fund, and (b) such diversion was in violation of the orders of the High Court. The purpose for such diversion remains unexplained. This action was done by him as an advocate? Are there any charges against him after he was appointed as a judge? Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed a High Court Judge on December 3, 2003. The Inquiry Committee noted that Justice Sen's actions were, "an attempt to cover up the large-scale defalcations of Receiver's funds". After he became a Judge he did not seek any permission from the Court for approval of the dealings, as required by the Court, nor did he account for the funds. Is there any other case? What is the status? Another such motion has been initiated against Chief Justice Dinakaran of Sikkim High Court. An Inquiry Committee is looking investigating the issue. However, Mr Dinakaran has reportedly sent in his resignation to the President. If the resignation is accepted, then the motion to remove him will become ineffective.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.