Ray cited in judges' panel case

Filmmaker should be allowed to rest in peace, says court

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 12.06.15

New Delhi, June 11: The Centre's top law officer today said "someone like Satyajit Ray" could introduce diversity into the judiciary as an eminent member on the selection panel, prompting the Supreme Court to ask him to let the late filmmaker "rest in peace".

Attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi was referring to the inadequate representation of women in the judiciary as part of his arguments that the proposed National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) would be more sensitive than the erstwhile collegium system because of the presence of eminent members in the new panel.

"The eminent persons may or may not be jurists.... These eminent persons could be someone like Satyajit Ray, could be the Indian equivalent of Bill Gates.

"They will give inputs on the social perspective, family background of the judge and social realities. The judges (in the panel) can give inputs on their legal acumen. This is an additional check on the executive and the judiciary so that they may not get cosy," Rohatgi said.

"Can Satyajit Ray strengthen or dilute the process? Is the concept so unconscionable? It may be uncomfortable... but it will introduce diversity," the attorney-general said.

Justice J. Chelameswar then told Rohatgi: "Ray should be allowed to rest in peace."

Rohatgi's office later said he was aware that Ray had died in 1992 but had cited the name to drive home his point that accomplished persons from other fields can also make valuable contributions in the selection of judges.

The attorney-general told the Supreme Court that the erstwhile collegium system failed to provide adequate representation to women in the judiciary, a lacuna that the newly constituted NJAC seeks to compensate.

"The rest of the world is changing. There has to be change in the mindset in India too to break the judicial oligarchy in black robes.

"There is a lack of sensitisation. There's no reason why there should be only one or two women judges in the Supreme Court or the high courts. The change should happen now, not beyond our lives," Rohatgi told the bench which is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the NJAC.

The Supreme Court now has only one woman judge - Justice R Bhanumati - out of sanctioned posts of 31.

The attorney-general brushed aside apprehensions that the presence of the law minister in the selection panel would enable the executive to push its own names by vetoing the choice of the Chief Justice of India and two other judges in the NJAC. "These are mere surmises and conjectures. There has to be an element of constitutional trust," he said.

"There will be accountability to people through the NJAC. It will be subject to RTI," Rohatgi said.

But the bench said subjecting the appointments to an RTI query could prove "disastrous" for the applicants because any adverse reports against them were bound to make its way to the public domain.