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House unites on judges’ bill

New Delhi, Aug. 12: Parties closed ranks today to assert the “supremacy of Parliament” and back bills to replace the judges-only collegium (panel) with a judicial commission that would give the government more say in judges’ appointments.

The strongest support came from Trinamul whose Lok Sabha MP Kalyan Banerjee hailed the Narendra Modi government for bringing the bill and lashed out at the judiciary.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad moved the two related bills in the lower House calling on members to rise above political affiliations and support the proposal to change the system, saying it was related to “supremacy of Parliament” along with the independence of the judiciary.

The bills could not be passed today, though, as the Lok Sabha had to cut short its sitting for a President’s programme in Parliament.

Prasad repeatedly underlined that the government had no intention to encroach on the independence of the judiciary but the thrust was on asserting the “supremacy of Parliament”.

The appeal saw the members come together.

The Congress, which initially had reservations over some clauses, finally declared support saying it was “hamara bill (our bill)”, seeking to take credit for framing the legislation the party could not pass in the last Lok Sabha when it was in power.

“We have decided that this bill is ours and we should fully support it,” Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said, intervening while Prasad was replying after the debate.

The Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK placed a condition for support, saying similar judicial commissions should be set up at the state level.

But it was Trinamul’s vociferous backing that stood out. In his speech, Kalyan alleged “blatant favouritism” in the appointment of judges under the current system.

“If I know the senior judges and I enjoy the blessings of the chief justice and senior judges, my name will be recommended. If someone does not enjoy those blessings but is a good lawyer, his name will not be recommended,” he alleged.

The Trinamul MP also accused judges of giving primacy to PILs for publicity. “He (minister) should bring a law… which should state that in the case of PIL, neither the name of the party, nor the name of the lawyer nor the name of the judge would be published and none of their photos would be given; then you see how the PILs are responded to,” Kalyan said.