Seeking to scrap the collegium system, the government on Monday moved a Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha to set up a six-member body for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts, hours after it withdrew the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2013, in the Rajya Sabha, introduced by the previous UPA regime.
The Congress was isolated in the Rajya Sabha as the other opposition parties supported the government’s move. However, the government will have to get the Congress on board to ensure passage of the Bill in the three remaining days of the current session. The Congress has already indicated its opposition to rushing through the legislation, and has sought wider consultations.
In the Lok Sabha, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also introduced an enabling Bill — the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014. While the Constitution (121st Amendment) Bill, 2014 seeks to put the proposed commission and its entire composition in the Constitution, the other legislation lays down the procedure to be followed by the body for appointment of Supreme Court judges and transfer and appointment of Chief Justices and other judges of the high courts.
According to the proposal, the Chief Justice of India will head the NJAC, which will also include the Law Minister, two other senior judges of the Supreme Court and two eminent personalities. The last two will be selected by a collegium comprising the Prime Minister, CJI and leader of the single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
One of the eminent persons will be nominated from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, minorities or women. The term of the two eminent persons will be for a period of three years, with a provisio that they cannot be renominated. The NJAC has been given constitutional status to ensure that the government cannot change its composition through an ordinary legislation.
The Bill provides that if two members of the NJAC do not agree on a candidate, the appointment will not go ahead. It also provides that the President can send back the recommendation of the panel for reconsideration. But if the panel reiterates the recommendation “unanimously”, the President will have to give his assent.
It states that the NJAC will seek the views of the Governor and Chief Minister of the concerned state in writing before appointing or transferring a judge of that high court. The Bill makes it clear that the proposed body will recommend for appointment the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice of India. But the judge under consideration will not attend the meeting in which his or her name is recommended.
Besides amending Article 124 to make way for the NJAC, Article 124A will be inserted to describe the composition of the body. The proposed Article 124B says the “duty” of the commission is to recommend persons for appointment as Chief Justice of India, Chief Justices of the 24 high courts and transfer and appointment of judges of the high courts.
The Constitution Amendment Bill also seeks to insert Article 124C in the Constitution to give Parliament the power to make laws regarding judicial appointments. Besides, it seeks to amend a few other Articles related to judicial appointments.
In the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in a minority, as soon as the Law Minister got up to seek the House’s nod for withdrawing the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2013, Congress’s deputy leader Anand Sharma objected. He said the government should come up with amendments to the present Bill instead of withdrawing it. He also objected to the “hasty manner in which it is sought to be done.”
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien then sought a sense of the House, which was clearly in favour of the government. Parties which had joined hands with the Congress on the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, now backed the government, including BSP’s Satish Chandra Misra, SP’s Naresh Aggarwal, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s D Raja, AIADMK’s V Maitreyan, DMK’s Kanimozhi and Trinamool Congress’ Sukhendu Sekhar Roy.
They said the government had consulted their parties and they had given their suggestions in writing. “It is the need of the hour to introduce the new Bill and withdraw the old one. We will welcome the new Bill,” said Misra.
Aggarwal criticised the Congress for objecting to the withdrawal of the Bill. Addressing the Congress benches, he said, “Your leader must have told you to oppose everything in Rajya Sabha, so you do it. We are not pressurised by you.”