New Delhi, Jan.18 : The impeachment process against Karnataka Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran has entered its third phase, with the constitution of an inquiry committee to hear the case against the judge. Earlier, 75 Rajya Sabha members had signed on to an impeachment notice against Justice Dinakaran, and the Rajya Sabha chairperson (Vice President Hamid Ansari) had accepted the notice. The final stage would be a vote on the floor of the House — a vote that has never ever resulted in the impeachment of a judge.
As a new milestone in the long road to impeachment is crossed, there are two qualities that the inquiry committee must exhibit: fairness and speed. Much of the accusations against Justice Dinakaran are ad hoc and untested — a product of an opaque selection mechanism to the Supreme Court, and a tortuously slow impeachment process. This is unfair to the complainants (where is the platform to air their grievance?) and to the judge himself (how does he defend himself?). The inquiry committee offers some corrective, by providing for its members to investigate charges against Justice Dinakaran, and by giving the judge an opportunity to present his side of the story. It is critical that this be transparent, not secretive as the process has been so far. The other quality that the inquiry committee must display is speed. The public trial of the judge has been fuelled by long official silences. If there is to be some closure to this controversy, it must be a decision that is delivered quickly, rather than a long drawn out answer (like in the still pending inquiry commission report into allegations against Calcutta high court Judge Soumitra Sen) that fuels rumours and innuendos.
The larger question is of the impeachment process itself. The UPA government plans to replace the current Judges (Inquiry) Act with the Judges (Standards and Accountability) Bill. Whatever be the final version of the law, it is hoped that the new mechanism does four things: provides complainants with an accessible platform, gives the accused judge a chance to defend himself, makes decision-making transparent and, most important of all, mandates a quick result that clears the air — one way or another.