The ongoing tussle between the Centre and the Supreme Court has taken a new shift with Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju writing to the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud suggesting that government representatives be included in judges' appointment in the Supreme Court Collegium.
In his letter, Rijiju says that doing so will "infuse transparency and public accountability", thus further escalating the tensions between the government and judiciary, which broke last year.
The letter is "just a follow-up action of letters written earlier to the Chief Justice", Mr Rijiju told news agency ANI today, asserting that the Supreme Court constitution bench had talked about a possible restructuring while striking down the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC).
Several ministers, current and former, including Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar have indulged in a war of words over judges' appointments by the collegium. They have criticized the judiciary and termed it the "opaqueness" of the judiciary. The ministers are at loggerheads with the judicial body demanding for government's role in the selection of judges, which has been an exclusive domain of the Supreme Court Collegium since 1993.
The Union law minister in multiple statements has said that the collegium system is "alien" to the constitution and strongly objected to a system that does not give the government any authority in the appointment of judges. He also criticized the SC for the scrapping of the National Judicial Appointments Commission(NJAC) set up by the BJP-led government through a law enacted in 2014. The commission would have comprised members of the government and the judiciary and was said to be a threat to the independent functioning of the judiciary.
Previously, Dhankar had criticized the "one-upmanship and public posturing" of judicial platforms and said the scrapping of the judicial commission "was a scenario perhaps unparalleled in the democratic history of the world." Dhankar also questioned the landmark 1973 Supreme Court verdict which said that the parliament can amend the Constitution but not its basic structure.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has defended the collegium system as the "law of the land" which should be "followed to the teeth". It would not cease to be the law "just because some sections of society expressed a view against the collegium system", NDTV reported. Rijiju's letter also pitches the idea for state government representatives in the High Court collegium.
The judicial appointments and functioning are often called the most democratic systems in the country with no government interference in the appointment of judges. However, in the last few years, it has been criticized by activists, academicians, and scholars for allegedly being dictated by the union government.
The Supreme Court collegium currently comprises Chief Justice Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, KM Joseph, MR Shah, Ajay Rastogi, and Sanjiv Khanna. The apex court has firmly defended the collegium system against government attacks, the only hope in the face of an authoritarian government.