While addressing the audience at the golden jubilee celebrations of the Delhi High Court, the prime minister and the chief justice of India also addressed each other. It is a step forward. They have spoken their minds at public fora before, but the communications did not clear the air and perceptions had only hardened of a stand-off between the government and judiciary in general, and specifically over the matter of delay in judicial appointments. This time, however, the messages from the two pillars of democracy were positive. Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur asked his flock to accept that public perceptions of judicial rectitude have fallen, and that the judiciary must rise to the challenge. And the prime minister, while calling yet again for an All India Judicial Service — the vexed question has been in the air since 1960, and has been revived repeatedly — suggested debate on the matter.
The prime minister advocated the possibility of including “Dalits and the exploited sections” in a new, improved judiciary and expressed his discomfort about the government being a habitual litigant. His message reflects a willingness to seek reasonable solutions, coming days after the tumultuous government-judiciary relations hit another uncomfortable moment. Last Friday, the chief justice signalled that the Supreme Court would not allow the executive to “decimate the system” by “inaction, inefficiency or unwillingness” to clear the backlog of appointments which the collegium had passed on to the government nine months ago. The consequence could only have been unpleasant, with bureaucrats of the prime minister’s office and the law ministry being summoned by the Supreme Court to explain themselves.
On Monday, the government cleared the names for 10 higher judiciary appointments. The fact is, judicial appointments cannot remain a contested issue, for the courts guard both the public interest and the Constitution. For now, the executive and the judiciary have moved on from using institutional occasions to speak at each other, to using them to speak to each other. The way is now paved to a formal, yet open process of resolution.