Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday stressed the need to ensure the balance between the Judiciary, Legislature and Executive, and urged the three organs to work together to fulfil the wishes of people while remaining within their limits. The PM’s remarks came soon after a passionate exchange between Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra over judicial appointments, at a gathering of judges and advocates at a National Law Day event here Sunday.
Delivering the valedictory address, Modi said, “The balance between the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive has been the backbone of our Constitution. Because of this balance, our nation was able to defeat Emergency… Today, when we are making every attempt to build a new India, the significance of these principles which have been taught by the Constitution has only increased. We have to fulfil the people’s hopes and aspirations while remaining within our limits.”
He added, “They (the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary) are members of the same family… We do not have to prove anyone right or wrong. We know our strengths. We know our weaknesses.”
The PM spoke after Prasad and CJI had a candid exchange on judicial appointments and judicial activism. Decrying the Supreme Court striking down the NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission), Prasad wondered if the Prime Minister, “who was a very popular and global leader”, and who even possessed the nuclear button because that’s how much the people trusted him, or he himself as the Law Minister could not be trusted to make fair judicial appointments.
CJI Misra quoted from a judgment that interpreted Article 75 of the Constitution which says that the PM shall be appointed by the President and the other ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the PM. He said the judgment clearly laid down “the constitutional expectations from the PM”, and added that “the rest has to be left to the wisdom of the Prime Minister, we say nothing more, nothing less”. He said the Constituent Assembly had reposed trust in the PM and “we also repose the same trust in the PM”.
In his speech, Modi quoted from the Supreme Court verdicts in the 1975 Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Raj Narain case and the 1967 Golak Nath Vs State of Punjab case, and said these had spoken elaborately on the need to maintain separation of powers between the three organs of the State.
In the Raj Narain case, the apex court had ruled that “neither of the three Constitutionally separate organs of State can according to the basic scheme of our Constitution today lead outside the boundaries of (their) own constitutionally assigned sphere or orbit of authority”.
In the Golak Nath case, the court said the Constitution “creates three major instruments of power namely the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. It demarcates their jurisdiction minutely and expects them to exercise their respective powers without overstepping their limits”.
Prasad repeated what Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Saturday at an event in connection with the National Law Day — that the elected government was also part of the basic structure of the Constitution. “The independence of the judiciary, which is a part of the basic structure, cannot be invoked in a manner as to make the other basic structures irrelevant,” he said.
Citing the cases of dams caught in litigation for years, Prasad said it deprived people of irrigation and power and said such complex governance issues are better left to the Executive.
Prasad also disapproved of courts taking over functioning of other agencies through committees, citing the excuse that they were not functioning properly, on the basis of PILs. On Saturday, Jaitley too had criticised this. “PILs cannot become a substitute for governance,” Prasad said.
While talking about the NJAC, Prasad cited the case of Kolkata High Court judge C S Karnan, held guilty of contempt of court, to question the collegium system of appointment of judges. “I found that the then collegium found him (Karnan) to be well-versed in all branches of the law. Obviously he was not well-versed in the contempt law,” Prasad said.
The CJI, who spoke after Prasad, cited instances where the Judiciary had turned down matters which encroached into legislative affairs. “We recognise, accept, also mutually respect, separation of powers,” the CJI said.
On Prasad’s comment that “the Constitution makers did not desire that the law minister remain a post-office in the appointment of judges”, CJI Misra said, “We never intended so. We gave him absolute constitutional respect.”
In his inaugural address at a Constitution Day event earlier in the day, President Ram Nath Kovind also stressed on the need to maintain the balance between the Judiciary, Legislature and Executive. “It is critical to keep this intricate and delicate balance in mind… They are all equal. They should all be conscious of their liberty and strive to protect their autonomy. And yet, they should be careful not to disturb the fraternity of the separation of powers by even unknowingly intruding into the domain of either of the two other branches,” he said.
Speaking at the event, Attorney General of India K K Venugopal said it was time to examine “if PILs have achieved their objective”. “Having started with PILs for the help of and benefit of those deprived sections of society who were unable to fend for themselves, today we find (it) covers a very large area. There is no single activity which is not covered under the domain of PIL.”