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Collegium Row: Law Minister Kiren Rijiju Blames Collegium System For High Pendency Of Cases, Judicial Vacancies

Referring to the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), Law Minister Kiren Rijiju remarked that, 'I don't want to say much as it may seem like the government interfering in the judiciary. But the spirit of the Constitution says it is the government's right to appoint judges.'

Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju
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In yet another jibe targeting the Collegium system for appointment of judges to the higher judiciary, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju on Thursday said that the basic reason for the large pendency of cases across the country is the procedure of appointments in the judiciary. 

Procedure of appointing judges the root cause for pendency: Rijiju

"The government took many steps to reduce pendency of cases, but the government has a very limited role in filling vacancies of judges. The collegium chooses names, and apart from that, the government has no right to appoint judges," Mr Rijiju said.

"Unless the procedure of the appointment of judges changes, the issue of high judicial vacancies will keep cropping up," said the Law Minister, as he linked up the issue of high pendency to that of vacancies. 

As per a report published on NDTV, Rijiju was responding to a question in parliament on the large number of pending cases, wherein he reignited the war of words between the executive and the judiciary, highlighting the limited role played by the government in appointing judges. 

'It's the government's right to appoint judges'

Expressing concern over more than five crore pending cases in courts across the country, Rijiju said that the government has time and again conveyed to the Chief Justice of India and High Court Chief Justices to "send names (of judges) that reflect quality and India's diversity and give proper representation to women" but the present system is not reflective of the will of the parliament or the people. 

Referring to the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), Rijiju remarked that, "I don't want to say much as it may seem like the government interfering in the judiciary. But the spirit of the Constitution says it is the government's right to appoint judges. It changed after 1993."

The NJAC was instituted by the government through the 99th Constitutional Amendment Act in 2014. But the Supreme Court in the Fourth Judges Case in 2015, ruled in favour of the primacy of the Collegium system and struck down the NJAC as unconstitutional. The apex court had ruled that the NJAC violated the separation of powers doctrine and thus violated the basic structure of the Constitution.

Ongoing War of Words between the Executive and Judiciary

Rijiju has taken the spotlight amid a long running row between the judiciary and the executive over the collegium system. Last month, Rijiju said the collegium system is "alien" to our Constitution. "You tell me under which provision the collegium system has been prescribed," he asserted.

His comments found echo in Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar's remarks when he said that a law passed by the Parliament, which reflects the will of the people, was "undone" by the Supreme Court and "the world does not know of any such instance," referring to the striking down of the NJAC act.

This came after the Narendra Modi-led government on November 25 returned 20 recommended names to the Supreme Court for appointment to judges, expressing "strong reservations," which marked another nail in the coffin for the growing friction. 

To this end, the top court had last week lambasted the Centre over such comments and said that "Comments on the Supreme Court Collegium by government functionaries are not well taken and the Collegium system is the law of the land which should be followed to the teeth."

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