Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today emphatically said that there was "need for transparency" in the appointment of judges. He however added, that the "autonomy of the judiciary should be respected".
Replying to questions at the daylong India TV Conclave on "4 years of Modi government" here, the Law Minister said that there was unanimity among political parties on the National Judicial Accountability Commission Bill, but it was struck down by the apex court. "The Supreme Court Collegium in its verdicts in 1993, 1998 and 2015 had admitted that the Centre had the right to review the decisions taken by the Collegium, and the present government was only exercising that right."
Without naming Justice C S Karnan of Calcutta High Court, who was jailed for six months by the apex court for contempt, the Law Minister said: "When we went through the file of that judge, it was written that he was an appointee of the Collegium. It was written on the file that he had a good knowledge of various laws. Naturally, that judge had no knowledge about contempt. So somewhere or other, there is need for improvement in judiciary."
The Law Minister pointed out that apart from the stay on judges' appointment in 2014 and 2015 due to NJAC issue, the Centre has appointed 126 judges in 2016 and 117 judges in 2017, and appointment of more judges is in the pipeline. "Transparency in judiciary is our commitment", he added.
Asked whether it was his view that there was no transparency in judiciary now, Prasad ducked the question and replied: "I didn't say this. There is need for improvement, and that is the directive from the judiciary itself."
On the Centre sending back the file relating to the appointment of Uttarakhand Chief Justice K M Joseph, the Law Minister said: "I want to again clarify that this has nothing to do with the verdict given by Justice Joseph striking down President's rule in the state. There are two main reasons for this - One, our party has already a government in place with three-fourth majority in Uttarakhand, and Two, the Supreme Court has itself affirmed the verdict. The judge who affirmed the verdict was Justice Khehar, whose bench quashed the NJAC Bill. To say that Justice Joseph's appointment file was returned out of revenge, is wrong."
On the historic press conference by four sitting Supreme Court judges, the Law Minister said; "I would not say anything on this. I have full faith in the farsightedness of the apex court judges in ironing out their differences."
He however hit out at Congress president Rahul Gandhi for raising the judges issue at his rallies in Chhattisgarh.
"Despite being defeated at the hands of the people, Rahul cannot run this country through the corridors of the court by using a sponsored (praayojit) case. The nation will be run by only those who have got the blessings of the people through vote. Rahul raised Justice Loya's death case in his rallies, but there is no logic behind this.
"It has been a tradition not to drag the judiciary into politics in our democracy. In most of his speeches, Rahul is raising the issue of "boycott by judges". What does he want to convey?"
Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "It is a matter of pride for me, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, that we all fought for the rights of press, citizens and judiciary during the emergency. Who superseded Justice Shelat, Justice Grover and Justice Hegde? Why did Justice H R Khanna said during emergency that there could be no compromise on the issue of liberty of citizens?"
On the Karnataka controversy, the Law Minister reminded that former PM A B Vajpayee was given 15-20 days time to prove his majority by the then President S D Sharma, former PM V P Singh was given one month time to prove majority by the then President R Venkataraman and former PM Narasimha Rao was also given one month time to prove majority.
He alleged that Congress MLAs in Karnataka "were locked up in a resort" because the leadership did not trust them. "A democracy (loktantra) is run by public approval (lok-laaj), which is reflected through a mandate. You can't respect 'lok-laaj' by insulting the mandate given by the people."