Friction between institutions is sign of a “vibrant” democracy and the judiciary must hold its ground to shield its independence, outgoing Chief Justice of India R M Lodha has said. This independence may get affected if the executive gets a say in judges’ appointments, he said in Friday.
Replying to a question by The Indian Express on his relationship with the NDA government, Justice Lodha said many problems occur only because there is no definite demarcation of powers between institutions and one organ may feel there is encroachment by another.
“Frictions are signs of a strong democracy. If judiciary works within its sphere, nobody should mind. What is bad is encroaching on others’ field,” he said.
On the proposed law by the NDA government to scrap the collegium system for appointing judges to higher judiciary, he said: “It is my view that if appointments to higher judiciary are made by an institution or by a body in which persons other than judges are involved, it may affect independence (of the judiciary).
“Judges are best equipped to adjudge the suitability of a person because as judges we know all about their court craft, behaviour, skill and legal knowledge,” said Justice Lodha, the 41st CJI who leaves office on Saturday.
Lodha, however, pointed out that there was no institutionalised system to highlight the fairness and objectivity with which judges are appointed by a collegium.
“One may be justified (in saying) that there is no visible mechanism. However, we do have in-built guidelines that we follow before we appoint judges. But since all this is not visible, it is often said that ours is the only system where judges appoint themselves,” he said.
The CJI said there were also mechanisms to deal with issues relating to corruption in judiciary and complaints of sexual harassment. He maintained that for an institution like the Supreme Court, even one instance of sexual harassment was “unacceptable”.
When asked about the verdict in the coal block allocation case, he said the order was “in black and white” and that it was not for the judges to “explain or justify” their judgment once they have decided it on the touchstones of legal principles.
On the controversy surrounding his predecessor Justice P Sathasivam accepting the post of Kerala’s governor, he said he would not accept such an appointment.
“I think judges should not take up any constitutional or governmental post for at least two years after retirement,” he said, adding he would not be Lokpal or take any assignment offered by the government.
The CJI said there should not be any reservation for backward classes in the judiciary since merit was non-negotiable, but attempts should be made to have judges from all backgrounds.
Justice Lodha disclosed that there was never any proposal by collegium to appoint Karnataka High Court judge K L Manjunath as the chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. There have been spate of corruption complaints against Manjunath.