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Cong vetoes judicial panel

New Delhi, July 2: The Centre’s move to set up a National Judicial Commission is unlikely to muster support in Parliament. The Congress has decided to propose a simple constitutional amendment to restore the executive’s primacy in appointing judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts.

“We will reaffirm our opposition to the move to set up the National Judicial Commission if and when the government approaches us for support,” a senior party leader said.

On May 9, the last day of Parliament’s budget session, Union law minister Arun Jaitley had introduced a Constitution amendment bill to set up a commission to appoint and transfer judges. The bill was then referred to a parliamentary standing committee for vetting.

Sources said the political affairs committee of the Congress, headed by Sonia Gandhi, yesterday decided against backing the bill. One of the things the party does not agree with is the composition of the commission — three members of the Supreme Court, the law minister and a nominee of the President.

Last year Sonia had written to the government, spelling out why the Congress was against the commission.

But the party does not favour continuing the present system of appointing judges. This came into force after the Supreme Court’s interpretation of relevant constitutional provisions in 1993, and was reaffirmed in 1998.

By interpreting “consultations” to mean “concurrence”, the Supreme Court had established its “primacy” in appointing judges of the higher judiciary.

Sources said the Congress favoured “restoration” of the executive’s primacy in appointment and transfer of judges. The party also backed “strengthening the process of consultations with the judiciary” in a transparent way.

The party leadership believes this can be achieved without a judicial commission. A simple constitutional amendment restoring the executive’s primacy in appointment of judges would redress the problem, the sources said.

The Congress also discussed other amendment bills introduced during the budget session. There was no rethink on the party’s rejection of the government bill seeking to repeal the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act.

But indications are the party will keep the government guessing on another bill which proposes to tighten the anti-defection law and restrict the size of the Union and state-level council of ministers.

The bill was introduced in the last session and referred to a standing committee.

“We are not sure whether we should peg the size of the ministry through constitutional means or some political means,” said sources. No final decision was taken at the meeting. Sonia has referred the matter to a “small sub-group” of the committee which will look into the issue and make its recommendations to her.

“One thing is clear as of now: we are not in a hurry to decide on the issue,” said sources. The committee will meet again before the start of the monsoon session on July 21.

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