Discussion on setting up a mechanism for quicker resolution of commercial disputes on Wednesday branched briefly into the issue of National Judicial Appointments Commission, the future of a similar Bill, and why Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court K M Joseph had not been elevated to the Supreme Court even after the Supreme Court collegium had recommended his name more than once.
As Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was burnishing his government’s record in appointment of judges in higher judiciary, he said that because the Supreme Court had been deciding on NJAC, appointments to higher judiciary had been stalled until November 2015, and the low number of appointments was thus not the government’s fault.
Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai, who was in the chair, intervened, and asked Prasad that regarding NJAC “about which you spoke, what is the solution?”
Thambidurai said, “Parliament passed the legislation. Is the Supreme Court supreme or is the law passed by Parliament supreme? Please let me know what remedies you have found out. We cannot simply put the blame for everything on the Supreme Court.”
The intervention was enough for several Opposition MPs to jump in, and Justice Joseph’s name was heard in the House several times after that, although the Deputy Speaker did not allow the name’s mention to be recorded.
Prasad said, “We have accepted the judgment, but I have serious reservations on the reasoning of the judgment” about the Supreme Court’s judgment quashing the NJAC. “I would like to repeat that reasoning here in this House. They said… since the law minister is a member of the NJAC, an honest, fair judge cannot be appointed in the case of litigation against the government. That is a very loaded comment. I am sorry to say that,” Prasad said.
Saugata Roy of TMC said it was a “loss of face for Parliament”, and Thambidurai said that the Law Minister “represented the whole House”. One member of the Opposition shouted at this juncture: “What happened to (Chief Justice) Joseph?”
K C Venugopal of Congress asked, “The (SC) collegium had recommended the name of a judge. Why did the government reject only that name? What situation prompted the government to reject that name?”
A Sampath of CPI(M), who also spoke about the delay in communication between the government and the Supreme Court over the Memorandum of Procedure, asked, “Is it a sin to be in Supreme Court if two or more judges are…from the same state…but are efficient, senior and eligible? This has happened.”
Stating that it was not a sin, Prasad said “if judges come from one state”, but at the same time many High Courts go “unrepresented” in Supreme Court, “then as the Minister for Law and Justice, I am duty-bound to convey that concern to the court”.
Earlier, Prasad had said that as Law Minister he is “not a post office”, and it is his duty to apply his mind “and see that best appointments are made in the judicial process. I will keep on doing it regardless of judgment”. He also said it was not the tradition of the House to comment on individual names.