Soumitra Sen: Celebrity lawyer, judge’s downhill journey

August 19th, 2011 - 1:07 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Kolkata, Aug 18 (IANS) From being hailed as an authority in constitutional matters during his almost three decade-long legal career to becoming the first member of the judiciary against whom either of the houses of parliament has passed an impeachment motion, Justice Soumitra Sen’s downhill journey over the past five years has been keenly followed.

Born in Guwahati to a lawyer father on Jan 22, 1958, Sen moved to Kolkata after graduating in commerce and got his law degree from Calcutta University’s College of Law. He enrolled as an advocate on Feb 13, 1984.

With his keen understanding of the law, Sen saw his practice soar in Calcutta High Court where he dealt with civil and particularly constitutional cases with aplomb, earning respect and appreciation from his peers and catching the eyes of the seniors in the profession.

As his fame spread, Sen was appointed a permanent judge of the Calcutta High Court Dec 3, 2003, but within three years the fairy tale was rudely cut short.

Towards the end of 2006 it came in the media that earlier that year, Calcutta High Court judge Kalyan Jyoti Sengupta had ordered Sen to return along with interest Rs.33,22,800 he had collected as court receiver in a case between the Steel Authority of India and the Shipping Corporation of India.

The dispute related to the proceeds of the sale of some goods - part of a civil suit between the two central public sector undertakings - effected by then advocate Sen as per a directive of the high court which had appointed him receiver in 1984.

From then onwards to early 2006, the money remained in Sen’s account though he was discharged as receiver in 2004 and had taken over as a judge in Dec 3, 2003.

After Justice Sengupta ordered him to return the money, Sen deposited Rs 57,57,204 including interest. Sengupta in his order had made some adverse comments about Sen on the issue, and the latter filed a revision petition for deletion of the comments.

However, Sengupta disposed off the application, though Sen got a ruling in his favour from a division bench in 2007.

In the meanwhile, the then chief justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan asked the then high court chief justice S.S. Nijjar to give a report and then formed a three-member probe panel comprising judges. The judges committee in February 2008 found “misappropriation of money (at least temporary)” following which Justice Balakrishnan asked Sen to either quit or opt for voluntary retirement. But Sen did not oblige.

After Balakrishnan brought the matter to the notice of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, calling for starting proceedings for Sen’s removal, the Rajya Sabha constituted a three-member panel which held him guilty of misappropriation and misrepresentation of facts. On Wednesday, the impeachment motion was moved in the upper house by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) Sitaram Yechury.

Sen, who was given a chance to defend himself in the house, made an impassioned plea: “I am defending my life, very existence. Please decide in accordance with your conscience, applying your mind and on merit.”

However, his plea failed to move the members, and the upper house carried the impeachment motion by a huge margin of 173 votes.

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