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Jobs for boys, Mr Jaitley?

- An appointment and famous words

New Delhi, Sept. 3: The Narendra Modi government today formally appointed as Kerala governor P. Sathasivam, who retired as the Chief Justice of India just four months ago.

By nominating a former CJI for governor for the first time in the country, the BJP-led government has not only swallowed its own luminaries’ words when in Opposition but also put its appointments policy under the scanner.

The Modi government had struck a jarring note when it appointed former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman Nripendra Mishra as the Prime Minister’s principal secretary. The chief of Trai, an arbiter on issues involving crores of rupees, was legally barred from taking up a job after the term at the watchdog. The Modi government went to the extent of promulgating an ordinance to ensure Mishra’s appointment.

When Sathasivam’s name was doing the rounds, several jurists had said that sending a former CJI so soon after retirement to a Raj Bhavan would undermine the spotless standards the judiciary and the executive were expected to set.

Justice K.T. Thomas, a former judge who had turned down the post of the human rights commission chief, told The Telegraph on Monday that such appointments might lead to erosion of public confidence in the judiciary even if a judge had acted impartially during his tenure.

Nothing illustrates the contradiction better than the lofty words of Arun Jaitley, then Opposition leader of the Rajya Sabha and now the finance and defence minister; and Nitin Gadkari, former BJP president and current Union minister.

In an address to the BJP’s legal cell, Jaitley had said: “There are two kinds of judges: those who know the law and those who know the law minister.”

As a law minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Jaitley recalled: “I used to be afraid of meeting retiring judges for fear that they would hand me their bio-data.”

“This clamour for post-retirement jobs is adversely affecting the impartiality of the judiciary…. Now, through judicial verdicts, post-retirement jobs are being created,” Jaitley had said.

He had added that such a practice reeked of a cosy “jobs-for-the-boys culture” that potentially made judges open to government influence that on occasions caused “pre-retirement judgments” to be “influenced by the desire for a post-retirement job”.

Gadkari had noted that in some cases, judges were appointed to commissions even four months — a striking coincidence when viewed against today’s appointment four months after retirement — before they retired. He proposed a “two-year cooling-off period” for superannuating judges before they took up assignments.

The Congress, now apoplectic over Justice Sathasivam’s appointment, had then lashed out at Jaitley and Gadkari.