A day after Chief Justice of India RM Lodha defended the collegium system of appointing judges, the political class on Tuesday said the existing arrangement lacked transparency and at times “overlooked merit and integrity”.
The government said that while it favoured the independence of the judiciary, the “sanctity and supremacy” of Parliament was equally important as it reflected the aspirations of the people. Responding to a debate on the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014 in Lok Sabha, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government had “no intention” of interfering with the powers and authority of the judiciary and was only acting to have a “fair procedure” to appoint judges to the higher judiciary. “We intend to do this while properly maintaining judicial dignity,” he said.
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Speaking out against a “sustained campaign” to discredit the judiciary, Justice Lodha had said he was one of the first to be appointed by the collegium system. He admitted the system had limitations but said that “to carry on a campaign because of allegations against one or two judges is unfair”.
Dismissing suggestions that the government was rushing the bill — which seeks to set up a six-member commission to recommend names for the higher judiciary — Prasad said four attempts had already been made in the last 20 years to amend the Constitution as the collegium system has been found to be inadequate.
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The bill, however, could run into rough weather in Rajya Sabha with the Congress opposing its “veto provision”. “There are issues with the veto provision... There are two-three very crucial changes that will affect the independence of the judiciary,” party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.
In Lok Sabha, members pitched for a separate state-level commission to deal with appointments and transfers of chief justices and judges of the country’s 24 high courts. Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress said the collegium system had reduced the legislature and executive to “clerks” while its “misuse” had denied promotions to “deserving” judges.
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Bhartruhari Mahtab of the BJD said the system lacked transparency and at times overlooked “merit and integrity”. “We are getting decisions and not judgments under the present system,”added Anandrao Adsul of the Shiv Sena.
Anupriya Singh Patel of Apna Dal called the CJI’s defence of the collegium a “deliberate and conscious effort to undermine and demoralize” Parliament.
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