A week after the Supreme Court's unprecedented step of making public its communication with the Centre on judges' elevation, Union Law and Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju has questioned the conduct of the Supreme Court Collegium in putting "sensitive, secret reports" in the public domain.
Asked why the Centre has issues with the step, which many have hailed as a leap forward to ensure transparency, Mr Rijiju said standards for transparency are different. "There are some matters which should not be disclosed in national interest, and there are matters which should not be concealed in public interest," he told India TV news channel in an interview.
The disclosure of the Supreme Court judges' back-and-forth with the central government over the appointment of judges, including the objections raised by intelligence agencies, has led to disquiet in the security establishment, sources had told NDTV.
It's been a practice not to make the objections public, and keep the confidentiality of intelligence agencies who scrutinise prospective candidates for the posts of the higher judiciary -- both in the High Court and Supreme Court. The disclosure has caused great concern within the government, which feels that this should not have been disclosed and used publicly.
Mr Rijiju, however, refused to comment on suggestions that the Collegium may be trying to highlight that the government is not in favour of appointing advocate Saurabh Kripal as Delhi High Court judge because of his same-sex relationship with a foreign national -- a big reveal from the Supreme Court disclosure.
"Whenever I have to speak, I will speak as the Law Minister. We work in accordance with the thinking and guidelines of our respected Prime Minister, but I cannot disclose all this here," he said.
Mr Rijiju further said he can't discuss the process of appointment of judges as it's a 'sensitive issue', but stressed that the government "takes its considered decision carefully and follows a policy".
"Neither from the government nor from the judiciary, such matters should be put in the public domain," he said.
Asked about allegations that the judiciary was under attack, Mr Rijiju said they have never tried to curtail its rights or show it in a bad light, but were forced to react because the Supreme Court's comments sent a "wrong message" to the people.
"Tell me one instance in the last eight and a half years of Modi ji's rule, when we tried to curtail the rights of judiciary or tried to show it in a poor light? Whatever I have said about the judiciary was only in reaction...When it was said from the Supreme Court bench that the government is sitting on files, then, in a democracy, it becomes necessary for me to reply. We do not sit on files normally, but we follow the process as required. The courts should realize that they should not say anything which sends a wrong message to the people," the law minister said.
Mr Rijiju reiterated that he never attacked the judiciary, and said what he had to say in "a correct manner". This should not been taken as attack, he said.
Mr Rijiju, though, did point to a line that mustn't be crossed, in national interest.
"We all respect the judiciary, and if Indian democracy is strong, the biggest reason is that our judicial structure is strong and robust. That's why we say, we will not interfere in the work of judiciary, and the judiciary should not interfere in the work of executive and legislature. There is a 'laxman rekha' (dividing line) drawn in between. We have got this from our constitution. It will be in the nation's interest if neither side cross that 'laxman rekha'," he said.
On his recent remark that judges do not have to contest elections or face public scrutiny, but they are under the public eye by way of their actions, their judgments, he said it was in context of "thousands" meeting him and writing to him saying judges should be made accountable.
"Some say, there should be accountability as it is a democracy, and there cannot be a king in a democracy. I want to tell them, the people are the final arbiter in a democracy, and the Constitution is our holy book. We rule according to the Constitution. That's why I said since judges do not have to contest elections, they are appointed, they should ensure that their work is good because the people are watching," he said.
The government has been pressing for a greater role in the appointment of judges, which has been the domain of the Supreme Court collegium or panel of senior most judges since 1993. The issue has spiralled with the top court pushing back, and even retired judges of the Supreme Court taking the Law Minister head-on.