By Sushil Kutty
Another five judges have been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium for appointment to the apex court. The five-member collegium led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud. This comes on the heels of the Centre’s nod to the appointment of the Chief Justice of the Bombay High court Dipankar Datta to the top court, the son of a former judge of the Calcutta High Court, and, therefore, eminently qualified and suitably fit for elevation to the top court.
At least that is the thinking; that the kin of judges and justices make the best judges and justices. In Bollywood, it is called nepotism and ‘bhai-bhatijavaad’, but in India’s higher judiciary it is quite the fashion and if anybody has objections, please hold your tongue!
Justice Dipankar Datta’s name for the Supreme Court was recommended during the time of CJI UU Lalit. Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju sat on the name for two and a half months and finally gave his nod only now, after first making judges’ appointments a thorn in government-judiciary relations.
The Modi government is convinced that nothing good comes out of the ultra-secret and “opaque” Supreme Court collegium that selects judges for appointment in the topmost court of the land. The collegium system is also the recruitment agency of High Court judges. The collegium meets behind closed doors and what goes on behind the ‘bandh-darwaza’ is for anybody to guess, but nobody’s to know, speculate, or question.
It is an invitation to contempt. Usually rewarded with ‘time’. The Supreme Court collegium is the CJI and his four senior-most justices. The five shut themselves in a room, and behind closed doors knock heads to pick ‘picks’ for the Supreme Court with not a single fly on the wall.
To borrow a phrase from BR Ambedkar, the collegium is a “closed corporation” with no entry to even the whiff of intervention. Nothing short of a battle tank can make a breakthrough. And no one dared to change the system, till the BJP came to power riding on Narendra Modi’s coattails.
Modi must have been thinking a great deal about the Supreme Court during his time as Gujarat Chief Minister, and not all of it with happy endings. In 2015, the first Modi government introduced the ‘National Judicial Appointments Commission’ designed to replace the ‘Collegium’, and be done with it.
But the Supreme Court threw a spanner and deleted NJAC from judicial memory. At its core, the Modi government is pusillanimous, so, it took its own time to react. And here it is, in 2022, recalling NJAC in mostly toothless forums. The Modi government is back at the collegium’s jugular, and the apex court is fighting back with equal determination.
Union Law minister Kiran Rijiju was for the longest time the government’s face, questioning the collegium’s raison d’etre, asking how it is that judges could appoint judges when nowhere else in the world this sort of self-aggrandizement was allowed? Rijiju has a point, and now he has an able ally in Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar. But then, what’s the solution to the conundrum, if not the collegium?
Harking back to the NJAC is out of the question. That will tantamount to mocking the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court cannot be relegated to a nothing-burger, not in the eyes of the nation. ‘Alien’ is a word used by Rijiju for the collegium, but the Supreme Court should in no way become “alien” to the people at a time when most every institution is getting alienated by design, or by just happenstance.
All of us have our own views on the four pillars, but very few of us would want to be witnesses to turmoil and confusion at the highest echelons. The higher judiciary’s collegium is being wantonly labelled as a closed corporation, an elite club of privileged citizens who are allegedly beyond scrutiny, or oversight.
And these insinuations are possible only because they aren’t all insinuations. For example the charge of kith and kin getting precedence in judges’ appointments. Rank You-tubers are levelling the charge and getting away with it, why?
On the flipside, why does the Modi Government want to have a say in top court appointments? Does it want a pliable judiciary, one willing to bend just that little to take forward the BJP/RSS agenda? And the times are desperate, there are lots of things to do and already two terms are over. It’s only the judiciary which is wired to take things right down to the wire. The ways things are proceeding, the judiciary, warts and all, will be the last man standing! (IPA Service)