Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has fired another salvo in the continuing attack on the collegium system under which judges for the high courts and the Supreme Court are selected, transferred or promoted. He now wants a government representative to be part of the collegium when it deliberates on these issues. Mr Rijiju argues that this is in keeping with the spirit of the Supreme Court verdict which struck down as unconstitutional the law that sought to create a National Judicial Appointments Commission to replace the collegium. He made the demand in a letter to Chief Justice DY Chandrachud. It is difficult to see the letter in isolation, as the Centre has been consistently putting the collegium under pressure so that it wilts. Of late, Mr Rijiju has been working in tandem with the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, who also have a bone to pick with the collegium.
Only the gullible will believe that this collective bid by the executive and the legislature is a sincere attempt to bring about transparency in judicial appointments. Transparency is far from the minds of Mr Rijiju and the others. If it were not so, there would have been greater transparency on the Government’s part when it sits tight on some proposals sent by the collegium. In some cases, names mooted are cleared after so much delay that seniority levels change, deciding who may (or may never) become Chief Justice of India. There is no clarity on the Government’s pick-and-choose policy when it comes to acting on the advice of the collegium.
When it accuses the collegium of lacking in transparency, the Government conveniently forgets that it promotes opaqueness in its own working. Innumerable are the constitutional and other senior posts that it routinely fills. Does anyone other than a few in the top echelons know the rationale for the selections? Gubernatorial posts are routinely filled with party members and yes-men who seem to lack knowledge of how to uphold the Constitution at all times in their dealings. Indeed, they seem to believe their job is to keep the chief ministers, if they happen to be posted in states ruled by non-BJP parties or alliances, on tenterhooks. The only criterion that appears to be used in the selection of such persons is loyalty, to the party and its leader rather than to the Constitution.
A report casting aspersions on the selection process followed by the collegium and the inadequate representation of backward sections would have made greater sense if the Government had been able to explain why Muslims are unrepresented in the Council of Ministers though they constitute at least 15% of the country’s population. The condition of Christians is not much better. While the need for the collegium to pick up from a wider basket of lawyers and judges is undeniable, the same can be said of the Government which is also discriminatory in its selection processes. The argument advanced by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha that striking down a law enacted almost unanimously by Parliament was an anti-democratic measure would have rung true if Parliament had been more accommodative of dissenting voices. No one needs reminding how public life was disrupted for more than a year by the Government’s determination to force three controversial agricultural laws down the throats of farmers.
Similarly, the unrest it triggered by enacting a discriminatory citizenship law did not show the two Houses of Parliament in good light. Legislative presiding officers often conduct themselves like henchmen of the ruling party than symbols of the autonomy the Houses enjoy under the Constitution. It is nobody’s contention that the collegium system of appointments is ideal for a country of India’s size and diversity. A better system can certainly strengthen the judiciary and bring to the Bench men and women of intellectual and moral superiority who can stand up to all kinds of pressures, the operative word being better. The present campaign against the collegium is simply to bring back the pre-1993 system when the Government picked judges of its liking. Transparency is just a ruse.
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