Even as the NDA government got the necessary support to get two crucial Bills aimed at establishing a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) to replace the collegium system of appointments to higher judiciary passed in the Lok Sabha, its attempt to do a repeat in the Rajya Sabha was stonewalled by Opposition members on Wednesday.
The Opposition benches raised the issue of constitutional propriety in the government introducing the two Bills — the Constitution Amendment Bill to include a provision in the Constitution for the NJAC, and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014, that spells out the functions of the NJAC and the manner in which it would go about doing its job — at the same time.
As a result, the government introduced only the Constitution Amendment Bill and initiated debate on it.
With the Opposition refusing to yield, the issue of the second Bill will be decided on Thursday — either through a ruling by the Rajya Sabha chairperson or through voting. There is a third option too: the Opposition decides to play along and allows the government to have its way.
Sources told The Indian Express that the government’s key managers are busy talking to Opposition leaders, including from the Congress and the Left, to convince them to allow both the Bills to be debated and passed simultaneously.
Earlier in the day, when the government tried to introduce the two Bills in the Rajya Sabha — the President’s assent was taken immediately after the Lok Sabha passed them — a united Opposition sought to scuttle the move. The substantive issue they raised was whether the House should take up both the Bills together, since one is a Constitution Amendment Bill.
CPI(M) member Sitaram Yechury said that unless the Constitution Amendment Bill is passed and becomes law — which would also require ratification by at least half of the total state legislatures — the NJAC Bill cannot be introduced in the House. \He said if the House ignored this requirement, the resultant laws would be infructuous and liable to be struck down by the court on grounds of being ultra vires.
But Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the amendment to the Constitution would be effective only after the President gives his assent and the NJAC Bill is required to enable the states to know the framework being established.
He said the legislature’s right to pass a law on the constitution of the Supreme Court or high courts flows from Article 246 of the Constitution that, when read with Sections 77 and 78 of the Seventh Schedule, empowers it to pass legislations on these aspects.
Following a suggestion by Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien sought the opinion of senior advocate K Parasaran, a nominated member. Parasaran said although the amendment to the Constitution would come into effect only after it has cleared the due procedure, that does not prevent the House from taking up that Bill even if the NJAC Bill has to wait.
Opposition MPs like P Rajive and Madhusudan Mistry objected to the fact that printed copies of one of the two Bills had not been circulated before being introduced. They also said the government had not given a supplementary list of business. Mistry asked why the Bill was being brought in a “hurry”, without being listed in the day’s business. He said members did not get time to study it.
The Law Minister conceded that the NJAC Bill had been passed by the Lok Sabha with one amendment, and copies of the revised Bill were yet to be printed. He, however, said that since the Constitution Amendment Bill had been passed by the Lok Sabha with no change, “even in punctuation marks”, and the number of the amendment — 99th instead of 102nd — the House should at least take up the latter.
Thereafter, Kurien ruled that members could move amendments, if any, on Thursday when discussion on the Bill resumes. The Bill was finally allowed to be introduced after Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu said it was on the suggestion of leaders of various political parties that the government had decided not to extend the session.