Over 21 years after a Supreme Court judgment removed the Executive from the process of selecting judges of the apex court and state high courts, the existing collegium system is set to be replaced by the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) — a six-member panel headed by the Chief Justice of India which will include two senior-most Supreme Court judges, Union Minister of Law and Justice and two “eminent persons” nominated by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, CJI and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha or leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
With President Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday granting his assent to the 121st Constitutional Amendment Bill, passed by Parliament during the Budget Session, the government now only needs to notify the date from which the new law will come into force and get presidential assent for the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Bill. The government is likely to send the NJAC Bill to the President soon.
The NJAC Bill, which was passed by Parliament along with the Constitutional Amendment Bill, provides for the procedure to be followed by the NJAC for recommending persons for appointment as CJI, judges of the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice and other judges of high courts. Once the two Bills are notified, the judges will also lose the power to recommend transfers of Chief Justices and other judges of high courts.
Union Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda told The Indian Express that he would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday to discuss the next course of action. “I will meet the Prime Minister the day after tomorrow to discuss. We will decide after that. But we will do it soon,” he said, when asked if his ministry would send the NJAC Bill to the President soon.
The Law Ministry sent the 121st Constitutional Amendment Bill to the President for his assent on Tuesday evening, after receiving the mandatory ratification by one-half of all state legislatures. Sources said 17 of the 29 state legislatures ratified the Bill as passed by Parliament. Uttar Pradesh raised some objections and sought modifications, as it wanted a bigger and clearer role for the state governments in selection of judges of high courts.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had also asked the Centre to clearly mention in the NJAC Bill that the Governor would have to follow the advice of the state government in the appointment of high court judges. However, the then Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad informed Banerjee of the Constitutional position that says the Governor is bound to take decisions on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.