Parliament forms committee to study allegations against Chief Justice RanaThe 11-member Impeachment Recommendation Committee has four members from CPN-UML.
Parliament has formed an Impeachment Recommendation Committee to study allegations against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, three weeks after the impeachment motion was registered.
Speaker Agni Sapkota on Sunday presented a proposal to form an 11-member Impeachment Recommendation Committee as per Article 101 (3) and (4) and Rule 162 of the House of Representatives Regulations, which was endorsed by majority votes.
“Since the majority of the lawmakers have voted in favour, I declare that the proposal has been accepted,” said Speaker Sapkota at Sunday’s Parliament meeting.
As many as 98 lawmakers of the ruling coalition–Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist) had registered the impeachment motion against Rana on February 13.
The sudden move had raised questions, given the timing of the impeachment motion, as ruling coalition partners were squabbling over ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, with the Maoists and the Unified Socialist opposed to the American grant.
The main opposition CPN-UML reacted sharply, accusing the ruling coalition of shenanigans. It said that some plots were being hatched as the ruling coalition had taken such a move without consulting the main opposition, which is also the single largest party in Parliament.
There were speculations of a counter-move by the UML—the party had even collected signatures of its lawmakers on blank papers—that it would file impeachment motions against four other judges who were part of the Constitutional Bench led by Rana, whose order on July 12 last year had led to party chair KP Sharma Oli’s ouster from office.
The UML, however, made no such move.
After haggling for days, the coalition partners agreed to ratify the compact. Parliament on February 27 endorsed the US grant amid UML obstructions.
The ruling coalition then came under pressure to justify the impeachment motion, as it continued to languish in Parliament with no further action. Questions were raised if the motion was filed with an ulterior motive.
After the ruling coalition finally decided to move the motion forward, the UML initially opposed. However, after the meeting of the Business Advisory Committee on Sunday decided to form the recommendation committee, the UML agreed to send its four lawmakers to the committee.
The 11-member committee includes Bishnu Poudel, Lalbabu Pandit, Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe and Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel from the UML; Min Bishwarkarma and Ram Bahadur Bista from the Nepali Congress; Yashoda Subedi and Rekha Sharma from the Maoist Centre; Ekbal Miya from the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party; Kalyani Kumari Khadka from the CPN (Unified Socialist); and Pramod Sah from the Janata Samajbadi Party.
On February 13, the impeachment motion was proposed by Pushpa Bhusal, a whip of the Nepali Congress, and Dev Gurung and Jeevan Ram Shrestha, chief whips of the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist, respectively. The proposal was seconded by 95 lawmakers from the three parties.
Article 101 (3) of the constitution says there shall be an Impeachment Recommendation Committee in the House of Representatives for the purpose of making recommendation after inquiring into whether there exists the ground and reason for moving a motion of impeachment against any person under Clause 2. And Article 101 (4) says the committee under Clause 3 shall consist of 11 members of the House of Representatives.
Members of the Parliament Secretariat said the impeachment motion was delayed because the government was focused on endorsing the MCC compact.
“No parliamentary business can move forward unless the government wants it,” said a member of the Parliament Secretariat. “That was one of the major reasons behind the delay.”
Now with the formation of the probe committee, the process of impeachment against Rana has moved forward. Rana remains suspended since the day the motion was filed. The committee will start its investigation once the full house of parliament deliberates on the motion and forwards it to the committee.
Then the committee will have to present its report within three months after studying whether the charges against Rana are justified or not and if the committee finds the charges legitimate then the impeachment motion will be taken up for a vote at the full meeting of the House of Representatives.
“If two-thirds of the existing number of lawmakers vote in favour of the motion, Rana will lose his job, otherwise he will retain his position,” said Rojnath Pande, spokesperson for the Parliament secretariat.
Rana was appointed chief justice on January 2, 2019 and has nine months, until December this year, left for retirement.
Rana, however, stopped hearing cases ever since he ran into controversy following media reports that he demanded a share in the Council of Ministers after his relative Gajendra Hamal was appointed Minister for Industry Commerce and Supplies. Justices started a protest after the revelation.
The justices from the Supreme Court and legal professionals had been protesting against Rana since October last year. The justices who had been boycotting hearings returned to benches on December 1 only after a lottery system was adopted to assign cases to benches. As the justices refused to share a bench with Rana, he hadn’t heard any cases since the adoption of the lottery system. Lawyers, however, are still continuing their protests.
The lawmakers who had registered the motion have levelled 21 charges against Rana, including he promoted corruption and entry of middlemen in the judiciary, failed to maintain the dignity of the judiciary and misused the constitutional responsibility by demanding a share in government.
According to Article 101 (5), if at least three members of the House of Representatives certify and submit a petition that the received information, notice or petition is admissible on the ground of serious violation of the constitution or incompetence or misconduct or failure to discharge the duties of office honestly or serious violation of the code of conduct by the person in question, the committee under formed as per Clause (3), upon inquiring into such petition in accordance with federal law, makes recommendation to the House of Representatives for impeachment proceedings, a motion of impeachment under Clause (2) may be moved.
Rana, however, will get a chance to defend himself as Article 101 (7) says a person who is charged with impeachment shall be provided with a reasonable opportunity to defend himself or herself.
Rana is the second chief justice to face an impeachment motion after Sushila Karki on April 30, 2017. It, however, was a bench led by Rana, who was then a justice at the Supreme Court, quashed the impeachment motion.
A petition challenging the impeachment motion brought against Rana is also pending at the Supreme Court.
On February 24, advocates Punya Prasad Khatiwada and Deepak Mishra registered a petition at the Supreme Court challenging the impeachment motion.
The Constitutional Bench led by acting Chief Justice Deepak Kumar Karki that resumed from Friday will look into the petition.
The ruling coalition partners that have filed the impeachment motion against Rana, however, lack the numbers to pass it.
The UML, which has 97 members in the House of Representatives, must vote in favour of the motion for Rana to be ousted.
“We provided the names of our senior lawmakers for the committee after the Speaker asked for the same,” said Subas Nembang, deputy leader of the UML Parliamentary Party. “Actually the three ruling parties had registered the motion not to impeach him but to just to suspend him. We will take a decision on what to do next after the committee comes up with its position on the motion.”