The Union Law Ministry’s decision to ask the Supreme Court Collegium to reconsider its recommendation of Justice K.M. Joseph’s name for elevation, has triggered a political war of words between the Opposition and the government. Both sides have accusing the other of “undermining the judiciary”.
The Congress on Thursday said the “independence of the judiciary is under threat” while the CPI (M) called it an “unwarranted intrusion into the process of judicial appointments.”
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, hit back saying “record of the Congress party is littered with repeated instances of superceding judges, who were found to be inconvenient, and compromised the dignity of the judiciary.” “The legendary judge H.R. Khanna, who gave a dissenting judgment in the ADM Jabalpur case and upheld the freedom of Indians during Emergency, was denied the post of CJI and was superseded,” said Mr. Prasad.
Former Law Minister Kapil Sibal said, “We want to know as to who will stand for judicial independence. Will the judiciary speak in one voice that ‘enough is enough’. Indian judiciary is in danger. And if our judiciary is not united to protect its independence then democracy is in danger. They want to pack High Courts with their own people.”
In a statement, the CPI(M) Polit Bureau said, “This is an unwarranted intrusion into the selection process of a judge and will affect the independence of the judiciary.”
Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the existing law on judicial appointments is settled. “As the law stands now, the recommendation of the SC Collegium is final and binding in the appointment of judges. Is the Modi government above the law,” he tweeted.
In 2014 as well, the government had refused to elevate senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium and had de-linked his name from other names that were accepted.
Though Mr. Subramanium withdrew his consent to avoid a judiciary-executive conflict, in June 2014, the then Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha had written to the Law Minister stating that it cannot ‘segregate” names without prior approval of the Collegium.
The government, however, maintains there are precedents and it has not done anything new.
“It may be mentioned here that such segregation of proposals has been done in many cases earlier, which include appointment of judges to various High Courts and also to the Supreme Court in the interest of expeditious action on appointments and filling up of vanacies,” Mr Prasad said in his letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Thursday.