Parliament on Thursday passed two crucial bills providing for a new mechanism to appoint judges in the higher judiciary by scrapping the two-decade-old collegium system, a move some jurists said they would challenge in the Supreme Court.
Rajya Sabha approved with overwhelming majority the 121st Constitution Amendment Bill and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014, a day after Lok Sabha’s consent.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the new measure would come into effect only after ratification of the Constitution amendment bill by half the state assemblies, a process that can take up to eight months. After this, the government will send the bill to the President for his approval.
“People want talented people to become judges,” Prasad said while winding up the debate on the issue in Parliament.
Once the bills become law, the government will have a say in the selection of Supreme Court and high court judges after 21 years. The collegium system of judges appointing judges will be replaced by a six-member commission headed by the Chief Justice of India deciding on appointments and transfers.
To get the Opposition on board, the government on Wednesday dropped the word “unanimous” from a clause that said all members of the commission have to agree to a judge’s appointment if there are objections and the President sends back the name for reconsideration.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley said in Parliament on Thursday that in the interest of the judiciary, there should be an element of primacy in the institution.
He said the process of appointments in judiciary today is not only by judicial primacy and has “virtually boiled down to a system of judicial exclusivity and the role of other institutions is almost negligible”.
Ram Jethmalani, an independent member of Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan and former law minister, was the only MP who abstained from voting.
Noted jurist Fali S Nariman criticised the bills in an interview with Headlines Today, saying they hit at the root of judicial independence and may be struck down by the Supreme Court. Nariman, a former nominated member of the upper House, said many lawyers, including him, will contest the government’s move in the apex court.
Passage of the bills was crucial for the Narendra Modi government’s confidence as it does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha.