Chief Justice of India RM Lodha on Monday came out strongly in defence of the collegium system of appointments even as hours later the government tabled a bill to overhaul the way senior judges are picked in the country.
The CJI expressed anguish over a "sustained campaign" in the media against judiciary and the collegium system.
"If there is a campaign to defame judiciary in the eye of public, you are doing a great damage to democracy." "Don't shake people's confidence in judiciary. For God's sake don't try to defame the judiciary," the CJI observed, while adding that as an institution the collegium had its limitations in selecting persons.
"If you say that the collegium system has failed, then its products have also failed. If you say so, we have also failed and judiciary as a whole has failed," the CJI observed, but said "we can do little about it".
"All judges at present are products of the collegium system," the CJI said.
"As an institution the collegium had its limitations in selecting persons. After all judges too come from the same society. But to carry on a campaign just because of allegations against one or two judges is unfair," the CJI said.
His unprecedented outburst in a courtroom packed with reporters and advocates came a day after former SC judge justice Markandey Katju again blogged about the alleged failure of successive CJIs in checking corruption.
This time, the Press Council of India chairman accused a former CJI, SH Kapadia, of not acting against a “corrupt” Allahabad high court judge. Katju also called for an end to the collegium system under which judges appoint judges. It has been criticised for being opaque.
To make appointments “transparent”, the government tabled the long-awaited National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in the Lok Sabha in the evening.
The bill will replace the collegium system with a six-member commission that will recommend to the president names for higher judiciary.
A related bill — Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-First Amendment) Bill — to make necessary changes in the Constitution to bring in the new system of selection was also introduced in the House.
In the SC, CJI Lodha defended the collegium, saying he was one of the first judges to be appointed through the system -- introduced in 1993 to end government’s control of judicial appointments.
The collegium had its limitations in selecting persons, “but to carry on a campaign just because of allegations against one or two judges is unfair”, the CJI said while dismissing a public interest litigation. The PIL wanted the court to disclose the details of the “transfer” of controversial Karnataka HC judge justice KL Manjunath as the chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana HC.
Justice Lodha, who heads the collegium, denied elevating justice Manjunath, accused of illegally buying a plot of prime land.
"You believe all reports in the media and press?" asked Lodha, when the counsel said media reports said the collegium had decided on the promotion.
"Who told you that his (Manjunath) name has been recommended for elevation. Because I am the Chief Justice and I head the collegium, I am not sure and I don't know whether there is any other collegium." "For god's sake, don't bring writ petitions on non-existent facts," he said.
"There is a misleading campaign going across to defame the judiciary and repeated attempts have been made to spread incorrect information," he observed.
“We are more concerned about credibility of the institution... It is unfortunate that it is coming from an important institution like the media," the CJI added.
Former law minister Salman Khurshid agreed with the CJI. "There are many who think there is a need for an amendment in the procedure. But I would say even that needs to be done with a lot of care. I believe that is the indication that the Chief Justice wanted to give," the senior Congress leader said.
(With inputs from PTI)