Tug of war over judges’ appointments escalates.
New Delhi, 27 November 2016. The country’s top court and the government sparred openly — and bitterly — on Saturday, and cautioned each other against crossing the ‘lakshman rekha’, a sharp escalation in a tug of war between the judiciary and the Centre triggered by differences over judges’ appointments.
First, Chief Justice of India (CJI) T S Thakur said at a function in the morning that 500 judges’ posts are vacant in high courts and courtrooms are lying vacant without judges “A large number of proposals are still pending and we hope the government will intervene to end this crisis,” said the CJI while addressing a conference of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
Law minister Ravishankar Prasad at the same event retorted back and said, “We respectfully disagree with him (CJI). This year we have made 120 appointments, which is the second highest since 1990.” The highest number of appointments of 121 was made in 2013, Mr Prasad said.
At a later event at the Supreme Court, Mr Prasad said that during Emergency, all high courts had showed great courage and determination but the Supreme Court failed the nation.
The CJI then cautioned that no organs of the government should cross the ‘lakshman rekha’ and stressed the judiciary has been given the duty to watch that all remain within their limits.
The CJI was responding to Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, who in an apparent reference to Emergency, had said that “the delicate balance of Constitution was disturbed in 1970s, and that balance must be restored”.
Hours later, Mr Rohatgi said at another Law Day function in the presence of the CJI and his likely successor Justice J S Khehar that “all including judiciary must recognise there is a ‘lakshman rekha’, and be ready for introspection.”
While the CJI did not respond to it, Justice Khehar said, “Judiciary has always kept to ‘lakshman rekha’ by upholding the Constitution.”
“Emergency brought out strengths and weaknesses of the Constitution,” he said responding to the AG’s remarks.
However, the law minister was more vocal in attacking the judiciary by saying that the “Supreme Court failed us during the Emergency and all high courts showed great courage”.
“Courts may quash the order of the government. Courts may set aside a legislation but the governance must remain with those who are elected to govern,” he said.
A virtual war broke out when the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act in October, 2015. The Act was to end a long and unique practice of judges appointing judges under a Collegium system.
Through the Act, the Centre wanted some say and transparency in the appointment of judges.