New Delhi: Breaking its silence, government today defended its decision to return the recommendation of the Supreme Court collegium to appoint senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium as a judge of the apex court, saying its move was based on “proper, cogent and sound” grounds.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserted that the government has the right to be consulted in appointment of judges in the higher judiciary, a day after Chief Justice of India R M Lodha took exception to the government's handling of the issue.
“In the process of appointment (of judges), government has got the right to be consulted. And whatever opinion the government has given, is based upon cogent, proper and sound grounds,” Prasad told reporters here.
He was responding when referred to the unhappiness expressed by the Chief Justice who had said it was not proper for the Executive to unilaterally segregate Subramanium's name from three others who were appointed to the top court.
“I fail to understand how the appointment to a high constitutional post has been dealt with in a casual manner. The segregation of Gopal Subramanium's file was done unilaterally without my knowledge and concurrence which was not proper,” Justice Lodha had said.
Earlier in the day, Prasad said the government has the “highest regard” for the judiciary, the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India.
“I want to reiterate very firmly that the Narendra Modi government has the highest respect for the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, is an article of faith for this government. We have the highest respect for the Chief Justice of India,” he said.
After the CJI expressed displeasure, sources in the government said the case of Subramanium for appointment as a Supreme Court judge was not taken forward as the noted lawyer himself “withdrew” his candidature while the process of conducting verifications was underway.
Government sources said the Supreme Court collegium had referred four cases for appointment as judges.
“As a standard operating procedure, verification about all the four was conducted. Out of them, three cases were fine but the case of Subramanium was referred back to the collegium for reconsideration,” the sources said.
“In the meanwhile, Subramanium himself withdrew his candidature because of which his candidature lapsed and the issue was no longer valid,” the sources said, adding, “hence, his case was not taken forward.”
As per the Memorandum of Procedure governing the appointment of apex court judges, the government can return the file to the judiciary for reconsideration. But when the collegium reiterates its recommendation, the government has to accept it. But there is no timeline for the government to take a decision.
The Supreme Court collegium, headed by the Chief Justice of India, had recommended the names of four persons as judges of the apex court but the government cleared the names of Chief Justices of Calcutta and Orissa High Courts, Arun Mishra and Adarsh Kumar Goyal respectively, and senior advocate Rohinton Nariman, leaving out Subramanum, the former Solicitor General.
The CJI had said when Subramanium reiterated his position of withdrawing his name, he was left with no option but to recall the collegium's recommendation (on Subramanium's name for appointment as judge).