Taking exception to the apex court holding the NJAC “unconstitutional” and favouring restoration of the collegium system, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said he is willing to “find a way out” if there is political unanimity over the government having a say in the appointment of judges to higher judiciary.
Prasad was replying to a lively debate in the Lok Sabha on the High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2017, which seeks to revise salary and pensions of these judges. The House later passed the bill by a voice vote even as many members who took part in the debate demanded hike in their salaries.
Replying to several points raised by the members, Prasad and said he was “a great supporter” of the proposed All India Judicial Service” on the lines of Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service.
Expressing his anguish at the Supreme Court stating in its judgement on the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) that because the Law Minister was its member, he might not act impartially in cases against the government, he argued the Minister was appointed by the same Prime Minister who had a say in deciding key appointments like those of the President, Vice President and the Lok Sabha Speaker.
He pointed out that the collegium system came in 1993 and the Law Minister used to be part of the selection process before that, adding that “some of the finest judges were appointed” then. He also cited the case of the jailed Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan as an instance of how the collegium had erred. “When I examined files, it (the collegium) said he was well-versed in law.”
“That ‘the Law Minister is involved’ is not a fair conclusion. I leave it to the House. If the polity decides to speak in one voice, we will find a way out,” he said.
As members expressed their support, Prasad said he was getting a sense of the House.
During the debate, several members also spoke about the encroachment of the legislature’s powers.
Trinamool Congress’ Kalyan Banerjee said MPs across the political spectrum should approach the Supreme Court and convey that “it is not your function” to legislate. He said he apprehended that “after five, ten or 15 years there will be a direct conflict between the parliament and judiciary unless the practice is stopped”.
Prasad said that with the debate, “a very powerful message has gone today” and it related to concern about middlemen, occasional instances of lack of probity and more rigorous standards of transparency.
Stressing that the government should not interfere in the working of judiciary, he however said: “I would like to convey to courts in India that if the principle of separation of power is there for us, it is also there for the judiciary to follow.”
He agreed that there should be representation of various sections in judiciary.
Answering questions about Memorandum of Procedure for appointments to higher judiciary, he said: “What we are saying is a greater scrutiny is required so that you may not have to send a sitting judge to jail again.”
Prasad said there were 5,984 vacancies in lower courts and 129 recommendations concerning appointments in high courts were under process, while tThere were six vacancies in the Supreme Court and nine high courts have acting Chief Justices.
On demands of some members that proceedings of the apex court should be telecast live, he said these matters should be left to judiciary and “the day Supreme Court tells us that they want live telecast of proceedings, we will giver everything required”.