On the day that the government introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha to scrap the collegium system of appointing judges, Chief Justice of India R M Lodha on Monday defended the existing mechanism while lashing out at the “unfair” and “misleading campaign” to defame the judiciary and tarnish its image.
“There is a misleading campaign to defame the judiciary and repeated attempts have been made to spread incorrect information. If there is a campaign to defame the judiciary in the eye of the public, you are doing great damage to a very important organ of the democracy. Don’t shake people’s confidence in the judiciary. For God’s sake, don’t try to defame the judiciary,” said the CJI, presiding over a three-judge Bench which was hearing a PIL related to the efficacy of the collegium system.
“The world is not perfect. No system is perfect, no one is perfect, the society is not perfect and we all are from the society. We are not perfect. We cannot be, but we are a very important institution in a democracy,” said the CJI. The bench included Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton Nariman.
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“I am from the first batch of judges selected via collegium and Justice Nariman is the last one to be selected. At present, all the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are products of the collegium system. If the collegium system has failed, then the products too have failed. If you say so, we have also failed and the judiciary as a whole has failed… everything has failed,” said the CJI, adding that the campaign to defame the judiciary is doing a great disservice to the country.
He said repeated attempts were being made to spread incorrect information about the functioning and decisions of the collegium, whereas the judges were more concerned about “the purity of system.” “Everyone is out to condemn the collegium system, terming it as a failure. As an institution, the collegium has its limitations in selecting persons. After all, judges too come from the same society. But to carry on a campaign just because of allegations against one or two judges is unfair,” said the bench.
The PIL, filed by advocate Ram Shankar, sought details of the collegium meeting that reportedly cleared Justice K L Manjunath’s elevation as Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court despite alleged corruption charges, besides scrutiny of the collegium’s decisions in public domain and more transparency.
But the CJI rubbished reports of Manjunath’s elevation, saying, “Who told you the collegium has recommended Justice Manjunath’s elevation? I am the Chief Justice. I head the collegium. We have not made any recommendation.”
The CJI’s remarks came hours before the government withdrew from the Rajya Sabha a Bill by the previous UPA government for setting up a National Judicial Commission and bringing two Bills in the Lok Sabha, including a constitution amendment for ushering in a new system of appointment. Later in the day, the government introduced a Bill to replace the collegium system in the Lok Sabha.
Notably, Justice Lodha’s observations came a day after former SC Judge and Press Council of India chairperson Markandey Katju alleged that he had informed former CJI S H Kapadia and three other former CJIs about corrupt practices by some High Court judges, but they failed to take action.
Questioning Kapadia’s role in not sacking a “corrupt judge” of Allahabad HC, Justice Katju, in his latest blog, said: “In response to my statement, Justice Kapadia has said that he did not remember this. It is strange that he has no recollection of this, but the record would be existing with the intelligence agency concerned, and perhaps also in the official file of the Chief Justice.”
He added, “Justice Kapadia also said that he did not bring any judge to the Supreme Court who was unfit. I may remind him that the Supreme Court collegium, headed by CJI KG Balakrishnan and of which Justice Kapadia was a member, almost succeeded in bringing a totally unfit person into the Supreme Court.”