As a busy first-time parliamentarian, PP Chaudhary moved 18 amendments to the Constitution of India during his initial two years in the Lok Sabha. Today, the MP from Rajasthan is a junior minister in the Ministry of Law and Justice.
That would mean an inevitable freeze on the pending moves he made through a string of private member bills since 2014 when he was elected from Pali, yet the sexagenarian minister is happy to continue holding his strong views on legal affairs. Some of them relate to appointments of judges, their tenures and post-retirement engagements, while almost all them are at the core of long-drawn tussles between the judiciary and the executive.
“We need judicial reforms urgently,” Chaudhary, who was a senior advocate, told Hindustan Times. “The government wants to maintain the independence of the judiciary.”
Sample some of the key changes the 63-year-old MP, with 98% attendance and above-average participation in debates, sought in the Constitution.
In a bill introduced in the Lok Sabha earlier this year, Chaudhary wanted “consultation” with the SC collegium for appointing judges to be merely advisory and “non-binding” in nature.
In separate bills he moved in the Lok Sabha, the member wanted SC judges to retire at 70 years instead of the present 65. He also sought a complete ban on post-retirement appointment of judges and chief justices of high courts and the SC by the Centre, states or public-sector undertakings in any capacity.
The BJP member had also brought back to focus the need for a National Judicial Appointments Commission, by tabling a Bill a month after the SC in October last year quashed a move to form such a body that aimed to replace the collegium system.
Other bills he introduced and are pending in the Lok Sabha include making voting in elections compulsory under fundamental duties in the Constitution and simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections. “Simultaneous election will save us crores of rupees, and are necessary to fulfil the prime minister’s mission of a corruption-less society and government,” he said.
Chaudhary, who has worked for the cause of farmers in his native state, also introduced separate bills for moving agriculture and water from states’ list to concurrent list. The move is likely to spark debate on the Centre trying to usurp the powers of the states.
An amendment bill Chaudhary moved on on March 13 this year sought the word ‘consultation’ to be defined in Article 366 (5A) as “action or process of formally consulting or discussing with another in a merely consultative, advisory and non-binding manner”. The sought amendment attacks at the root of the current system of appointment of judges through the SC collegium.
All those efforts, however, will now cease to gain steam. That is because, as constitutional expert Subhash C Kashyap notes, the rules of the Lok Sabha directs removal of private members’ bills from the register of pending legislation once the MP who moved them becomes a minister.
Chaudhary, though, continues to be tenacious. “Those bills reflect my philosophy. They lapse automatically, but the principles will remain,” said the minister.
All the same, Chaudhary has other ideas that he intends to propose legislation. For instance, he wants a separate cell in the ministry to look at international treaties. “Our past experience shows, we should have more specialised inputs, lest the other nation gains an upper hand,” the new minister said.