Former Solicitor General of India, Gopal Subramanium, has withdrawn himself from a shortlist of potential Supreme Court judges. He had been empanelled with three others by a collegium headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) R M Lodha. While the government cleared the names of the rest, it rejected that of Subramanium. In a nine-page letter to Justice Lodha, he has alleged there was a “carefully orchestrated drama” to scuttle his elevation to the apex court. While it may be true that the government has not been favourably disposed towards Subramanium, the latter has not covered himself with glory by alleging he had been blocked for collateral purposes.
The unsavoury episode underlines the urgent need for a transparent system for appointment of judges. That the current system, in which the government has to appoint judges only from a panel submitted to it by the collegium headed by the CJI, is not faultless has been demonstrated by the Dinakaran episode in 2009 and Soumitra Sen’s case subsequently. Parliament’s standing committee on law and justice that vetted the government’s Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) proposal some time ago found it “beset with its own problem of opacity and non-accountability besides excluding the executive entirely in the collaborative and consultative exercise”.
Any system that excludes the executive completely from the process of appointment of judges falls foul of the basic democratic principle of institutional checks and balances. We clearly need a statutory JAC. A Bill to create one was approved by the UPA government last December and presented in the Rajya Sabha. Unfortunately, it was not prioritised. Establishment of a National Judicial Commission was part of the BJP’s manifesto in the recently-held general elections and Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said it is one of the new government’s top priorities. The government has absolute majority in Lok Sabha and since the UPA had okayed it, the legislation should have smooth passage in Rajya Sabha also.