Law Minister HR Bhardwaj has been faulting the collegium system of appointment for the Supreme Court and high court judges, saying courts were not getting judges on merit, but his ministry, it seems, views the matter differently.
The UPA government is not even willing to disclose the names of aspiring candidates, not until the President puts the seal on appointments.
In its action-taken report on the recommendations of the parliamentary committee on law and justice tabled in Parliament during the last session, the Ministry of Law and Justice stonewalled demands for transparency.
The ministry claimed privilege over the deliberations involving judicial appointments. “The records of deliberations between the Chief Justice of India (CJI), minister of law and justice, Prime Minister are in the nature of advice tendered by the cabinet to the President and hence, being privileged, can’t be disclosed,” it said.
On demands for making the process transparent, it said disclosure of the names could come in the way of “dispassionate consideration of the names”. However, it didn’t explain how it would affect impartiality.
The panel’s suggestion would have given people an opportunity to know about the candidates and object to the undeserving ones. Once confirmed, permanent judges can only be removed through a cumbersome procedure of impeachment.
Not convinced with the reply, the panel suggested legislation to set up a body, other than the collegium, with representation from judiciary and executive for the purpose.
Unlike other democracies, India is the only country where judges appoint judges through a procedure shrouded in secrecy. Through an SC judgment in 1993, the judiciary arrogated to itself the power to appoint judges. It led to the “collegium system” which makes the recommendations of a committee of judges, headed by the CJI, binding on the government.
Slamming the “secretive system”, the panel had said the best talent wasn’t coming to the Bench, and wanted details of the applicants to be made public through the HC and SC websites.
The panel expressed hope that the government would consider its recommendations…“to save the judiciary by strengthening transparency and accountability regime…”