Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad Friday said the government has “highest respect” for judiciary and that independence of judiciary is sacred and sacrosanct for the BJP.
Asserting the proposed National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) was not part of any game-plan to have a committed judiciary, he told The Indian Express that it was “culmination of an exercise that has been going on for the last 24 years”.
Asked whether the government rushed to get the two judicial bills passed, he said, “We have not rushed at all. This has been in the works for the last 24 years. The first bill was in the year 1996, the second one in 1997, one in 1998, then 2003, so on and so forth. Then there are six reports on various committees… Also, I went for the widest consultation possible. I wrote to 26 political parties out of which all parties completely supported with minor variations. Even in Parliament, there was not even a single vote against it.”
Eminent jurist Fali Nariman has said that the government had assured them that there would be more consultations on the issue. Prasad responded: “I hold Fali in greatest respect. I have never commented and will not comment on what he says, except to say that all those who were present (at the July 28 consultation at Vigyan Bhawan) supported the need to change the collegium system.”
He added, “The present bill retains the primacy of the judiciary. The CJI is there as chairman along with two senior-most judges… There was huge pressure on us that the state government and the central government should also have a role in nominating for consideration. We said no. We took a conscious decision that the names should come from the HC or the Commission.”
Asked whether the NDA government was in an adversarial relationship with the judiciary, Prasad said, “We have the highest regard for the judiciary and independence of judiciary is sacred and sacrosanct for us. We have fought for it and we have suffered for it (during Emergency).”
On whether the government was open to making amendments to ensure primacy of judiciary, he said, “The bills are still in the legislative process… Let the state legislatures take a call, then we’ll decide… Let the new system be allowed. The system we have devised is very balanced.”
In case the new system is legally challenged, Prasad said “the government will convey its views to the court”. He added, “The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review which we respect.”
He also said the NJAC will be more transparent than the collegium system. “The nature of elaborate consultation that we have provided for in the NJAC Bill is going to take care of that. The regulations, once they are framed, will also do the same. Also, the filtration is quite elaborate,” he said.
At Tri Nagar, Smriti Irani centered her speech around Modi, with over 10 references in 11-minute extempore.