Today's Paper

SC Bench strikes down NJAC Act as ‘unconstitutional and void’

Declaring that the judiciary cannot risk being caught in a “web of indebtedness” towards the government, the Supreme Court on Friday rejected the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act and the 99th Constitutional Amendment which sought to give politicians and civil society a final say in the appointment of judges to the highest courts.

“It is difficult to hold that the wisdom of appointment of judges can be shared with the political-executive. In India, the organic development of civil society, has not as yet sufficiently evolved. The expectation from the judiciary, to safeguard the rights of the citizens of this country, can only be ensured, by keeping it absolutely insulated and independent, from the other organs of governance,” Justice J.S. Khehar, the presiding judge on the five-judge Constitution Bench, explained in his individual judgment.

The Bench in a majority of 4:1 rejected the NJAC Act and the Constitutional Amendment as “unconstitutional and void.” It held that the collegium system, as it existed before the NJAC, would again become “operative.”

But interestingly, the Bench admitted that all is not well even with the collegium system of “judges appointing judges”, and that the time is ripe to improve the 21-year-old system of judicial appointments.

“Help us improve and better the system. You see the mind is a wonderful instrument. The variance of opinions when different minds and interests meet or collide is wonderful,” Justice Khehar told the government, scheduling further debate for November 3 on bettering the working of the collegium system.

Every judge on the Bench, comprising Justices J. Chelameswar, Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A.K. Goel, has written separate judgments explaining the debate, reasonings and individual conclusions they arrived at about the NJAC and the Constitutional Amendment.

The entire bulk of the series of judgments and orders run to about 1,000 pages.