Rarely does a Bill in Parliament find support across the board. The discussion on the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill — to replace the collegium system of selecting judges to the Supreme Court and high courts — and the legislation to give it a constitutional status on Thursday saw none of the members questioning the intention of the government behind bringing these Bills.
There was, of course, criticism of the government, demands for some changes and suggestions for improving the Bills. The political class was unanimous in its view that the collegium system has to go. The debate saw MPs, particularly JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, BSP’s Mayawati and Left’s D Raja and P Rajeeve, arguing that the higher judiciary lacked SC, ST, OBC and minority representation. Mayawati demanded reservation in higher judiciary for SC/ST and OBCs.
And of course, a brief but fiery criticism of the government by noted lawyer and expelled BJP MP Ram Jethmalani.
Jethmalani said the Law Minister should not be a member of the NJAC as he may have to go back to court to practice and argued the government should be represented by either the Prime Minister or the Home Minister. “Law Minister is most disqualified person to be the member of this Commission. He cannot be trusted to have that kind of moral and professional courage,” he said.
He dismissed the proposed Commission as a “pale shadow” of what it was envisioned and wanted that the body should have the power to dismiss judges and accuse the government of “betrayal” on this issue. “It is a slur on the whole institution of National Judicial Commission,” he said.
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Jethmalani, who abstained when the constitution amendment bill was put to vote, also attacked Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, saying he seemed to have not studied the judicial commissions of countries like South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Prasad rejected the charge, saying it is “disrespect” to him.
Yadav spoke about the need for ensuring social diversity in higher judiciary. “In the 68 years of Independence, there have been 52 Chief Justices of India but there was none from backward class, only two were from Scheduled Castes and one from Scheduled Tribe, besides five from Muslim category,” he said. He said these categories were neglected to the extent that out of 145 former judges of Supreme Court, there was none from BC, SC or ST categories while the number of Muslims was 9.
Rajeeve demanded expansion of the Bill’s ambit to have powers to fix accountability in the judiciary. He quoted a speech by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley when he was the Leader of the Opposition where in he had argued that the commission should have powers to ensure accountability of the judges. “What is the reason for the change of opinion. Why have you diluted your stand on accountability,” he asked.
Talking about lack of representation of SC/ST, OBC and minorities, he said according to a report, 70 per cent of the judges come from 132 families. He demanded that out of the six members of the NJAC, one should be woman. “There is not even a single SC/ST judge in the Supreme Court now. How can we get natural justice,” he asked.
Gujral recalls ex-CJI’s ‘flip-flops’
New Delhi: During the discussion on the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, Shiromani Akali Dal’s Naresh Gujral recalled how, when his father I K Gujral was the prime minister, the “collegium recommended the case of a judge and the file itself said that the particular person was abusive to the family”.
Not stopping at that, Gujral also spoke about the “flip-flops” by the then CJI in the matter of recommending the name of his successor. He said the PM received the name of the next CJI ten days before the incumbent was to retire. “The PM looked at the file. There was unanimity on the recommendation, the senior-most judge was being appointed, and the file was sent to the President. Three or four days later, the Chief Justice called the PM and said there are allegations of corruption against this gentleman. The PM asked him why he had sent this name if there were allegations. He said, ‘My hands were tied; my fellow brothers wanted the name to be sent. So, I have sent the name’,” Gujral recalled.
“The gentleman, against whom there were allegations of corruption, was promoted as the CJI,” Gujral said.
The incident also finds mention in Gujral’s autobiography, Matters of Discretion, which says that “flip-flops” by former CJI J S Verma resulted in Justice M M Punchi being appointed as CJI.