The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the Constitution (120th Amendment) Bill,2013,to replace the collegium system of appointments to the higher judiciary with a new system in which judges will be picked by the President on the recommendation of a six-member Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC).
Except for the main opposition BJP,which walked out in protest against the decision of the government not to refer the bill to the parliamentary standing committee,the entire house barring a solitary MP voted in favour.
To be passed,a constitution amendment bill requires the support of two-thirds of MPs present and voting,with at least half the strength of the house participating in the vote. The government will now introduce the bill in the Lok Sabha Friday and try to get it passed the same day.
As first reported in The Indian Express,the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill,2013,which contains the framework and modalities for the establishment of the JAC,was referred to the standing committee for scrutiny in a time-bound manner.
On Thursday,members cut across party lines to support the proposed law,with a majority of speakers using the opportunity to criticise the functioning of the judiciary and questioning what they said were frequent attempts by the higher judiciary to transgress into the domain of the legislature and the executive.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal and Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley both spoke of the need to junk the collegium system created by judges to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and high courts,saying it lacked transparency and accountability.
However,Sibal refused to accept Jaitleys contention that the piecemeal approach of the government was not practical as passage of the constitutional amendment would create a constitutional hiatus as the collegium system would be repealed without a new mechanism in place.
Moving the bill,Sibal said the judiciary rewrote constitution in 1993 when the collegium system of appointing judges to higher courts was adopted,which disturbed the delicate balance between the judiciary,legislature and executive.
With greatest respect to Supreme Court of India,I believe they rewrote the constitution, Sibal said.
Sibal regretted that as a lawyer,he had in the past supported the idea of the judiciary appointing judges.
I also regret. Wise men are always proved right. When we were young,we wanted to change the system and sorry we disregarded your wisdom, he said,as nominated member and former Attorney General of India,K Parasaran,reminded him that he had been opposed to any outside role in judicial appointments.
The appointment of judges has nothing to do with judicial function, Sibal said. The acts of appointments are executive acts. The judiciary has taken over executive power by rewriting Article 124. That balance must be restored. Judiciary cannot take over the function of the executive.
Jaitley said courts could not ask the government to do this or do that and direct even the economic policy of the government. Courts cannot review a policy and say that my policy is better than your policy. It cannot say how to be tough on Naxalites.
Speaking to reporters after the passage of the bill,senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Venkaiah Naidu said the government had told us to go by the consensus,but the government has broken that promise. When we sensed their hidden agenda,we decided not to be party to such a move and staged a walk-out.
Naidu replied in the affirmative when asked if the party would walk out of the Lok Sabha too.
We are deeply distressed by the way the government has bulldozed such a far-reaching constitutional amendment. The BJP will insist the same opposition in the Lok Sabha and demand it be referred to the standing committee of Parliament, said the BJPs deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha,Ravi Shankar Prasad.