New Delhi, Feb. 7: Remarks made by a sitting Supreme Court judge on the continuance of Vilasrao Deshmukh in the Union cabinet have fuelled considerable unease in the government and the Congress.
But they are feeling helpless as the judge was speaking at a conference, not in the court.
Sources in the government said it would be difficult to seek redress as Justice A.K. Ganguly spoke at a private meeting. The sources said law officers would certainly have registered their objection had the judge made these observations in the courtroom.
Cabinet-making is the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister. The judiciary cannot dictate who should be retained, promoted or demoted, a top government official said.
Justice Ganguly had told the meeting in Mumbai that it is sad and shocking to see how the government allows and appreciates such ministers. Not only that, it also gives them a cabinet post. It is not a dignified act and I would call it a shameless act.
A Supreme Court bench of Justices Ganguly and G.S. Singhvi had criticised Deshmukh for protecting a Congress MLAs father against the complaints of poor farmers.
What has surprised the government most was that the judge chose to comment in public on a subject he had dealt with in the court only very recently. This is impropriety by all means, apart from the indiscretion that the judge criticised the Prime Ministers decision outside the court, a senior minister said.
The Congress avoided getting into a public spat with the judge but subtly disapproved of his action by recalling the clearly defined roles of different wings of democracy.
Party spokesperson Shakil Ahmed said: We dont want an argument with the Supreme Court judge but there is the sacrosanct separation of powers. The legislature, the judiciary and the executive had well-defined roles.
Asked if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself had tried to remind the judiciary of its responsibility yesterday when he spoke of the sanctity of the constitutional scheme and the abuse of the power of judicial review, Ahmed said: We dont want to comment on that.
But many Congress leaders felt in private conversations that the Prime Minister should have sent the message across in a more forceful manner, although they conceded that Singh was referring to the larger issue of judicial review and not commenting on any particular judge.
We dont want a confrontation but everybody should recognise each others responsibilities, a senior leader said.
Asked if the Congress was defending Deshmukhs promotion despite the courts strictures against him, a senior leader said: If the court thinks Deshmukh is not fit to be a minister, it should spell out its position in the court. As far as allocation of portfolios is concerned, thats the Prime Ministers exclusive domain.
Vilasrao was heavy industries minister earlier and has now been given rural development.
Party sources said Deshmukh was planning to approach the Supreme Court for a review of his censure in the case.
Government sources claimed this was no reason to come under pressure as Deshmukh had been a mass leader who had done a lot for farmers.