Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has written to the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, that the Supreme Court collegium that decides on judges' appointments should include government representatives. This will "infuse transparency and public accountability", the Law Minister says in a letter that vastly escalates a dispute between the government and the judiciary since last year.
The letter is "just the precise follow-up action" suggested by the Supreme Court while striking down the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC), Mr Rijiju said today, responding to criticism by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, among others.
Arvind Kejriwal, the chief of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), called the government's letter "dangerous" in a tweet. "This is extremely dangerous. There should be absolutely no government interference in judicial appointments," he tweeted.
This is extremely dangerous. There shud be absolutely no govt interference in judicial appointments pic.twitter.com/Bto3W3yMce- Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 16, 2023
Mr Rijiju retorted: "I hope you honour the court's direction!"
I hope you honour Court's direction! This is precise follow-up action of the direction of Supreme Court Constitution Bench while striking down the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act. The SC Constitution Bench had directed to restructure the MoP of the collegium system. https://t.co/b1l0jVdCkJ- Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) January 16, 2023
In the war of words over judges' appointments, several ministers - current and former - and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar have criticised what they call "opaqueness" of the judiciary. They argue that the government should have a role in selection of judges, which has been the domain of the Supreme Court Collegium since 1993.
The Supreme Court has firmly defended the collegium system. Opposition parties like the Congress, Trinamool and AAP have backed the top court.
In various statements, Mr Rijiju has called the collegium system "alien" to the constitution and has strongly objected to any system in which the government has no right to appoint judges.
He has also criticised the Supreme Court for scrapping the National Judicial Appointments Commission 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.
Vice President Dhankhar has echoed these views on multiple platforms. Last week, he criticised "one-upmanship and public posturing" from judicial platforms and said the scrapping of the judicial commission "was a scenario perhaps unparalleled in the democratic history of the world."
He also questioned a landmark 1973 Supreme Court verdict that said parliament can amend the Constitution but not its basic structure.
The Supreme Court has said the collegium system is 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".
The Supreme Court collegium currently comprises Chief Justice Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, KM Joseph, MR Shah, Ajay Rastogi and Sanjiv Khanna.
Mr Rijiju's letter also pitches for state government representatives in the High Court collegium.