Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed a crucial bill to amend the constitution for changing the two-decade old system for the appointment of judges, despite a walkout by the BJP on a day dominated by an unrelenting attack on the judiciary by MPs.
The debate on the 120th constitution amendment bill for the creation of a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) to replace the existing system of country’s top five judges (Supreme Court collegium) recommending names for the appointment of judges witnessed all parties slamming the judiciary for its interference in the functioning of the executive.
The passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha is the first in a series of many mandatory steps required to replace the collegium system which came into existence in 1993 following a Supreme Court judgment.
After it is passed by Lok Sabha with a two-thirds majority, this bill will have to be sent to all the state assemblies, half of whom would have to ratify it.
Simultaneously, both Houses of Parliament need to pass a separate bill which defines the structure of the proposed JAC.
The six-hour debate on the constitution amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha culminated in an interesting wordy duel between law minister Kapil Sibal and Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley.
Though both eminent lawyers agreed on the need to replace the collegium system with the JAC, Jaitley wanted the constitution amendment bill to be referred to the parliamentary standing committee along with the bill which lays down the structure of the proposed commission.
The government refused to accept the demand, which led to a walkout by the BJP before the voting on the bill, resulting in a comfortable victory for the government, which got 131 votes in its favour in the 243-member House. None of the parties present in the House voted against the bill.
"We have been consistent in our support for this bill, but we want the proper parliamentary procedure to be followed. Both the bills should be referred to the standing committee and brought together during the session," Jaitley said.
He also pointed out that passing the constitution amendment bill first could lead to what he termed a "constitutional hiatus".
Sibal assured the House that the government will not send this bill to the president for getting his assent till it gets the other bill on JAC structure passed in both Houses.
This, however, failed to pacify the BJP, which then walked out.