WITH MEMBERS across party lines expressing concern over Supreme Court getting into the domain of lawmaking through some of its verdicts, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday said the judiciary’s reluctance to “trust” the Prime Minister for “fair appointment” of judges is a “loaded question”. Replying to questions in Lok Sabha, Prasad said the separation of power principle is binding on the judiciary, too. “By separation of power, I mean the Executive will do its own function, Parliament will do its own function, and the Judiciary will do its own function – Parliament (is meant) to enact, Executive to formulate and execute, and Judiciary to interpret (laws),” the minister said. “In this light, if the separation of power principle is binding on all, I am sorry to say that it is equally binding on the judiciary.”
Prasad said, “The Prime Minister possesses the nuclear button. The Prime Minister can do so much of work entrusted by the people of India, but the Prime Minister, through the Law Minister, cannot be trusted to appoint a fair judge. It is a very loaded question.” The minister said Parliament has to debate this issue soon.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked on, Prasad did not hide the government’s reservation on the apex court’s move to overturn a new law on appointment of judges. He said a litigant might feel that a judge will not be impartial since he was appointed by a committee that includes the Law Minister.
“The Prime Minister is the leader. He works through his ministers. The Prime Minister of India today is the main player in the appointment of the President of India, the Vice President, the CVC (chief vigilance commissioner), the Chief Election Commissioner, the Public Service Commission and the three Army Chiefs. The people of India entrusts the Prime Minister the duty to safeguard the integrity and the security of India,” Prasad said, responding to Congress MP K H Muniyappa’s remark that the court rejecting a Bill passed by Parliament sends a bad message to the country.
In October 2015, the Supreme Court had declared as unconstitutional a constitutional amendment to validate the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, which had contemplated a significant role for the executive in appointing judges in the higher judiciary. Earlier, raising a question on speedy disposal of cases, BJP member Sanjay Jaiswal remarked that the apex court was getting into lawmaking through its verdicts on issues ranging from cricket management to medical entrance tests. MPs from both treasury and Opposition benches were seen thumping their desks over the remark. Jaiswal was referring to the top court’s orders on cricket management and NEET medical entrance examination.
Although Prasad refused to make any comment on the two orders Jaiswal referred to, he pointed out that in the Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala judgement, the Supreme Court had laid out separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary. Mohammad Salim of the CPI(M) wanted to know whether court proceedings could on camera — like proceedings of Parliament are telecast live — so that people can see what is happening in the court, and whether the poor are getting justice.
The minister said online transmission will create a “psychological pressure” but there are logistical problems involved in it. “While telecast of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha proceedings was easy, as there are only two houses. It is difficult to do so in several thousand courtrooms. But the suggestion is worth considering,” Prasad said.
As MPs repeatedly asked about the increasing number of vacancies in the courts, Prasad said the Modi government has made 126 appointments to the high courts and called it the highest ever in last 30 years. He said, “It goes to the collegium in the Supreme Court. A record 30 per cent of the recommendations of the high courts are turned down by Supreme Court…. I am sorry to say, many of the nominations are remitted by the Supreme Court. But I am fast-tracking it.”