An alternative method of removal of judges should be evolved at the earliest, the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, said here on Friday.
Answering questions on corruption in judiciary and accountability of the judges, Justice Verma told The Hindu that “what was initially considered to be sufficient is being found inadequate. A nationwide debate is now required to work out details of the alternative procedure in addition to the existing system.”
Under the proposed system, if the President considered any allegation against judges worth pursuing, he or she must form an opinion after consulting the Chief Justice of India and any other person. The President could form a committee of judges, whose finding should be final. If the committee found a judge guilty, the President could give an option to the judge concerned to resign or face action.
Justice Verma, who was the CJI during March 1997-January 1998, said the existing procedure for the removal of judges could not be started unless 50 members of the Rajya Sabha or 100 members of the Lok Sabha presented a petition. Then, the Rajya Sabha Chairperson or the Lok Sabha Speaker constituted a committee of judges. If the findings of the committee were adverse, it was for Parliament to adopt them.
Referring to the [former Supreme Court judge] V. Ramaswami case, Justice Verma said that though the committee of judges in this case had given an adverse finding, “for political reasons, Parliament did not [accept it].”
Justice Verma was not for abolishing the present procedure but said there could be two systems. He emphasised that if the judges’ committee gave adverse findings that should be sufficient for the President to take action. A law should be framed in this regard.
While framing a mechanism for ensuring judicial accountability at the highest level, the independence of the judiciary should not be compromised. “Judicial accountability is a facet of the independence of the judiciary. And, this is mooted to protect honest judges who are in plenty.”
On the question of appointment of judges, Justice Verma, the author of the majority opinion in the Second Judges’ Case (1993), said the ruling envisaged a joint participatory system involving the judiciary and the executive. While the judiciary would take care of the legal acumen of the person to be appointed, the executive would go into the antecedents and character of the person.
In the area of non-appointment on the grounds of antecedents or character, it was left to the executive to reject the candidate. Also, when the opinion of the collegium was not unanimous, the executive was not bound by it. The ruling did not stipulate anything new but formalised the procedure followed from the beginning.
Asked whether the process of appointment required to be revisited, he said: “We need to examine the aberrations, whether they are there because of the existing system or because of the way it is working. In my view, it is the working which is failing, not the system.”
Justice Verma said that when he was the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan High Courts and the CJI, he took into confidence his senior colleagues and lawyers on the issue of appointment of judges. “My ruling says ‘consult as many’.”
Once the appointment was made, everything in writing should be made available in the public domain. “This will act as an internal check.” He had no objection to making public his correspondence, on the appointment of judges or any other administrative matter.
He said the perception among sections of the Bar and in the judiciary about the collegium of judges was that it was “not satisfactory.” “And I cannot reject it as unreasonable. That’s why transparency is necessary.”