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Cong to seek vote on ‘veto’

New Delhi, Aug. 12: The Congress has serious objections to certain provisions of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2014 but appears reconciled to its passage as the government has mustered enough support in the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress will still move amendments and demand voting in the Rajya Sabha to register its opposition to what it described as “veto provision” in the bill.

This provision will ensure the executive’s primacy in the appointment of judges instead of restoring the balance as was originally envisaged. The Congress feels this clause makes the new bill fundamentally different from the one brought by the UPA government.

Top Congress lawyers today briefed MPs on the salient features of this bill, identifying three problem areas. They are:

No name would be cleared if two or more members of the commission oppose it;

The unanimity clause that comes into play if the commission has to review names returned by the government;

A vague provision about high court appointments that says lawyers and eminent persons would be consulted.

Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi said the “unanimity clause” means no judge can be appointed without the government’s consent, which would imply that executive primacy would replace judicial primacy in the appointment process.

Others lawyers agreed, claiming the government had tried to make space for veto through this clause.

For instance, suppose the law minister, who will be a commission member, is opposed to a name. It still gets clearance and goes to the government for approval. But if the Prime Minister returns the name for reconsideration, it can be sent again only if there is unanimity in the commission. It is obvious that the law minister, who is the government’s representative, will never allow unanimity to happen.

Singhvi said this amounted to veto power, which was not there in the original bill.

The Congress had decided to oppose this provision but the government has won the support of the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Trinamul Congress, Biju Janata Dal and the Left to ensure passage of the bill. Former law minister Veerappa Moily has placed on record the Congress’s objection to the veto clause.

At the party’s official briefing, spokesperson Singhvi said: “The bill is our idea, our draft, our initiative and hence we won’t show a negative approach. But significant changes have been made and we will offer constructive criticism.”

Specifically asked if the Congress would vote for the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Singhvi said: “Some clauses impinge on the independence of the judiciary. It disturbs the balance, which the commission intended to restore.

“Our principled opposition to these provisions will be placed on record. We are not trying to block the new regime. But don’t forget the BJP had opposed certain provisions tooth and nail when we brought the bill. Those provisions have now been included, showing the hypocrisy of the government.”