Chief Justice of India H L Dattu's refusal to join the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) has created an unprecedented constitutional crisis that can potentially lead to an ugly face-off between the judiciary and the executive.
Responding to the government's request to attend a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, to select two eminent persons who would be part of the six-member NJAC, Dattu wrote to the Prime Minister that he would not join the panel until the top court upheld its validity.
The developments could disturb the fine balance between various organs of the state as envisaged under the constitution.
The NJAC , headed by the CJI, comprises two senior-most Supreme Court judges, the Union law minister and two eminent persons as members. It has powers to appoint Supreme Court and High Court judges.
The two eminent persons are to be selected by a panel of the Prime Minister, the CJI and leader of opposition or leader of the largest opposition group in the Lok Sabha.
In immediate terms, the crisis is likely to hit additional judges in various high courts whose two-year term is set to end in the near future. Also, this will further delay appointment of judges in 24 High Courts which together have 251 vacancies against their sanctioned strength of 906. The Supreme Court too has three vacancies.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @satyastp_satya.)