Unfazed by the raging controversy over the recent appointment of judges to higher judiciary, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan has said that the collegium system has worked well and the procedure laid down for it has been strictly followed.
However, he said it was the government's prerogative to make any departure from the prevalent collegium system which involves selection of judges by a panel of judges headed by the CJI and bring forward changes in the procedure.
"We are just following the Supreme Court order which is binding on us. We strictly follow the procedure prescribed in the order. Whether this should be changed is for the government and the Parliament to decide," the CJI told PTI in an interview.
Balakrishnan said collegium system was working well as the names recommended by it have never been turned down by the government.
In the collegium (system) whatever names have so far been recommended, "I think, to my knowledge, no names have been turned down by the Executive in recent course," he said.
When asked whether the collegium's word is the last word on judges' appointments, Balakrishnan said "it cannot be the last word and the government can say that these names cannot be accepted".
The CJI said he had no qualms about the recent incident in which the government asked the collegium to reconsider the names recommended by it for elevation of three High Court Chief Justices to the Supreme Court.
"They have got a right to say that. Government has got a right to say," he said. Justice Balakrishnan said even as per the 1993 decision of the Supreme Court, government can seek a second opinion from the collegium and it can also say, that they can refuse to appoint a person recommended by the collegium provided they give reasons why these candidates may not be appointed.
"We can accept their reasons sometimes, some matters which may not be in the knowledge of the collegium may be with the executives also," he said.
The issue of reconsideration of the names for elevation to the Supreme Court cropped up in November when the government asked the collegium to review the clearance given by it to the names of Chief Justices Asok Kumar Ganguly, R M Lodha and H L Dattu.
The elevation of Ganguly, Lodha and Dattu Chief Justices of Kerala, Madras and Patna High Courts as judges of the Supreme Court, was mired in controversy as the Centre had asked the collegium headed by the CJI to reconsider the decision, taking into account the seniority of three other Chief Justices of High Courts.
The Centre had pointed out that the collegium overlooked the case of their seniors, Delhi HC Chief Justice A P Shah, Madhya Pradesh HC Chief Justice A K Patnaik and Uttarakhand HC Chief Justice V K Gupta, for appointment to the apex court.
However, the Collegium, comprising five senior-most judges of the apex court, refused to reconsider the decision and persisted with the names already recommended by it.
With no option left, the names were forwarded by the Centre to President Pratibha Patil who approved their appointments.
The CJI had contended that seniority was only one among several criteria for promoting judges to the top court and stressed the importance of merit.