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Voice for CM before judges are chosen

New Delhi, Aug. 12: Chief ministers and governors will be heard before judges are appointed to high courts, if the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill sails through Parliament without changes.

The NJAC bill aims at replacing the collegium system with an appointments commission and providing the executive a role by including the Union law minister in the panel.

The bill also stipulates that the views of chief ministers and governors shall be taken in writing by the commission before names are recommended. Not surprisingly, the Trinamul Congress was one of the most vocal supporters of the bill in the Lok Sabha today. ( )

The clause brings clarity to a subject that has been cloaked in controversy.

Now, in practice, the state government’s role is largely confined to checking the antecedents of nominees as the judiciary does not have the resources to conduct background checks. But some political parties had earlier cited legal precedent to insist chief ministers would have to be consulted before high court judges were appointed.

The process is now initiated by the chief justice of a high court and if the verification does not throw up anything objectionable, the shortlist eventually goes to the Chief Justice of India. The Chief Justice of India, in consultation with two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, takes the final decision, which is conveyed to the Union government.

According to the new bill, the views of the chief minister and governor shall be taken by the commission.

Clause 6 (1) of the bill says: “The commission shall recommend for appointment a judge of a high court to be the chief justice of a high court on the basis of inter se seniority of high court judges and ability, merit and any other criteria of suitability as may be specified by regulations.”

Clause 7 says: “The commission shall elicit in writing the views of the governor and the chief minister of the state concerned before making such recommendation in such manner as may be specified by regulations.”

The bill sets a time limit for activating the process to fill vacancies.

Clause 4 (1) says: “The central government shall, within a period of 30 days from the date of coming into force of this act, intimate the vacancies existing in the posts of judges in the Supreme Court and in a high court to the commission for making its recommendations to fill up such vacancies.”

At present, there are four vacancies in the Supreme Court and 257 in 24 states.

However, the bill has stuck to the convention of having the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice of India and the senior-most judge of one high court as the chief justice of another high court.

Only during the Emergency was there an aberration when on January 3, 1977, Justice H.R. Khanna was superseded and Justice M.H. Beg appointed Chief Justice of India on Indira Gandhi’s instructions.

Khanna then resigned. He later served as law minister and unsuccessfully contested as the combined Opposition candidate against Giani Zail Singh in the 1982 presidential election.


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