The NDA government is keen to set up the National Judicial Commission that seeks to replace the present system of judges appointing judges, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Tuesday.
Prasad’s announcement came in response to noisy protests by AIADMK members in the Lok Sabha demanding an inquiry into the controversial appointment of a high court judge under the previous UPA government. Citing former law minister HR Bhardwaj's interview in HT, AIADMK member M Thambidurai said DMK ministers and MPs had clearly interfered with judicial appointments.
Prasad said he had taken note of the concerns raised by the member and "the imperative need to improve the system of appointment of judges. Therefore, our government... is quite keen to ensure that the National Judicial Commission system is appointed".
Judicial appointments are in the spotlight after former Supreme Court former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju alleged in his blog that the term of a judge with corruption charges against him was extended 10 years ago because of political pressure by the UPA government.
Government sources said the NDA government will finalise details of the judicial commission after consultation with jurists and political parties. But unlike earlier plans drawn up by the UPA, the new version of the commission is not expected to stop at appointment of judges but will also be empowered to inquire into charges of misconduct.
“The details would be worked out in due course. You must remember that it was the BJP which was the first to raise the need for a judicial commission during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA,” a government source said.
Parliament has been in uproar since Katju blogged that three ex-Chief Justices had extended the Madras High Court additional judge's term due to pressure from a UPA ally in Tamil Nadu, an apparent reference to the DMK.
Katju’s allegations revealed the faultlines in India’s judicial appointments system. The Supreme Court devised the collegium system in 1993 under which top Supreme Court judges appoint judges of the higher judiciary. A nine-judge Constitution Bench ruled five years later that the CJI's opinion shall have “primacy”.
However, this system has been under attack and there is broad consensus amongst political parties that the existing collegium system should be scrapped.
"I personally hold the view that the collegium system needs to be restructured. Even the National Judicial Commission is also a collegium of a kind. It is supposed to be a broader based one for objectivity and transparency. That is my personal view," said Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi.
The UPA government had introduced a constitutional amendment bill along with the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Bill to change the collegium system in August last year. The Constitution Amendment Bill was passed by the Upper House on September 5, 2013 but has lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. Government sources said a comprehensive bill would be introduced to replace the JAC Bill on an urgent basis by the NDA.