New Delhi: Making its disagreement with the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) very clear, the government today said the verdict is a “setback to parliamentary sovereignty”.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who had piloted the NJAC Bill in Parliament as the law Minister, said the order had raised questions over the sovereignty of Parliament, which had unanimously passed the legislation that also received ratification from 20 state Assemblies.
“While holding very dearly the principle of independence of judiciary, I regret to say that parliamentary sovereignty has received a setback today... Questions have been raised on parliamentary sovereignty,” he told a press conference here, adding that the government will decide its future course of action after reading the 1030-page judgment and consultation.
Highlighting the backing the Bill enjoyed, he said it was a “unique moment in the Indian polity” when all political formations supported the setting up of NJAC to replace the 22-year-old collegium system, which has now been revived by the apex court.
Prasad wondered whether “judges appointing judges is the only way of judicial independence”, as decided by the Supreme Court today.
Noting that the executive had a greater role in appointing judges before 1993 when the collegium system was introduced, the minister raised a poser, asking if the judges appointed during that era lacked in any way as he cited the names of some of the finest judges, including M.N. Venkatachaliah and V.R. Krishna Iyer, appointed under that system.
He also insisted that the judiciary had “domination” in the NJAC and executive had only one member in it.
As Prasad outlined the government's disagreement with the Supreme Court order, he insisted that the Centre did not want any confrontation with the judiciary and judicial independence was an article of faith for it.
Earlier in the day, Law Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda expressed “surprise” over the Supreme Court's decision while Prasad and Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi questioned the transparency of the old collegium system which has been revived with the verdict.
Gowda said the next course of action will be decided after consultations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Cabinet colleagues.
“We are surprised by the verdict of the Supreme Court,” he told reporters in Bengaluru.
Noting that the court has sought the government's opinion on improving collegium system, Prasad argued that it meant it wasn't correct in the first place,” he said.
The AG ruled out the option of seeking review in the matter saying, “I don't think it is a case for review at all as the verdict is detailed and runs into over a thousand pages.”
Prasad also said the NJAC Act was part of judicial reforms in the country and had been envisaged by a host of bodies.
“It did not happen all of a sudden. The Constitution Review Commission, the Administrative Reforms Commission and Parliamentary standing committees in three of their reports had recommended such a law,” he said.
He noted that the principal author of the 1993 Supreme Court judgement, which led to the collegium system, Justice J.S. Verma had also suggested a serious rethink on the collegium system and so had Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said there was a unanimous support for the Bills in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha during voting.
“20 state Assemblies had ratified it...the principal author of the 1993 Supreme Court judgment (which led to the collegium system) (late) Justice J.S. Verma had also suggested a serious rethink on the collegium system and so had Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer,” Prasad said.
Naidu said the will of the people was brought before the Court, noting that the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha had supported the Bill besides 20 state legislatures had also ratified the constitutional amendment.