Govt withdraws from RS UPA's bill on judicial appointments

Govt withdraws from RS UPA's bill on judicial appointments

Govt withdraws from RS UPA's bill on judicial appointments

Ignoring strong opposition from Congress, Government today withdrew in Rajya Sabha UPA's bill for making judicial appointments and promised to replace it with a new and comprehensive one as other opposition parties supported the move.

Congress got isolated in the Upper House as members from Samajwadi Party, BSP, AIADMK, DMK and TMC openly supported the government's bid to reform the judicial appointments process, with some asking Congress not to oppose the move only for the sake of it.

Congress, which is the largest party in the 245-member House with 69 members, opposed the move for withdrawing the bill brought during its regime saying amendments in the earlier bill be brought instead.

Moving the motion to withdraw The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2013, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the previous government had brought two bills in this regard, including a Constitutional Amendment Bill, which has lapsed.

He said the government intends to bring fresh bills now as the bill being withdrawn was sent to the Standing Committee which made certain recommendations and the new bill will include all such suggestions including putting the composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission as part of the Constitution.

"The present government proposes to bring two new bills - a Constitutional Amendment Bill and another bill, improving upon the recommendations of the Standing Committee," he said.

Prasad's remarks that the bill that he seeks to withdraw was "disapproved" by the standing committee evoked sharp reactions from Congress, which said the bill was not rejected or withdrawn by the committee.

The Minister was forced to withdraw his words as the Standing Committee Chairman Shantaram Naik, which looked into the previous bill, said the panel had never rejected or disapproved the bill but only gave recommendations.

Raising the objections at the time of introduction of the motion to withdraw the bill, Anand Sharma (Cong) said the bill was being brought in haste.

"The normal practice is that once the bill is introduced, it becomes the property of the House, and can only be amended and not withdrawn. We have objections to withdrawing the bill," he said.

The motion was, however, adopted as opposition parties like SP, BSP, AIADMK, DMK and TMC stood by the government, while Left and JD-U also appeared in agreement.

Prasad earlier said unless the previous bill is withdrawn, the new comprehensive bill cannot be introduced.

Sharma said that the views of all members of the Standing Committee which made recommendations on the previous bill be sought before it is withdrawn.

"The House must know what bill they are bringing. It is sought to be done in a hasty manner. It needs further consultations," he said.

Sharma said the issue of judicial appointments is not something on which a "partisan" position can be taken, saying there was "near unanimity" in the House when the issue was discussed last time.

He sought to know if the bill that government proposes to bring is a departure from the previous one and there should be clarity on the composition of the Appointments Commission as well as need for wide-ranging consultations. He also said that views of various parties be heard.

Satish Chandra Misra (BSP) said the Law Minister has done consultations with parties by writing to various party chiefs. He noted that it will not be proper "to say it will be a fraud on the Constitution if the old bill is withdrawn and the new bill is brought...How can it be a fraud on the Constitution when it is not even a part of it."
Asking Congress not to oppose the bill simply because it is on the other side, Misra said for the last 20 years the issue of judicial reforms was being pushed to the back-burner and said his party would support the government on this.

"It is the need of the hour to introduce the new bill and withdraw the old one. We will welcome the new Bill," he said.

Naresh Agarwal (SP) said opposition was in favour of it when it was in the ruling side and now they are opposing it.

"Law Minister, you bring this, we are with you. We are not sold out to anybody," he said, as he took a dig at Congress for following the directions of their party leader to oppose the bill.

Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said his party not only demanded a Judicial Appointment Bill but said there should be a larger judicial commission and acts of omission and commission against judiciary should come under ambit of this legislation.

He said the National Appointments Bill should be named National Judicial Commission Bill.

Members of non-Congress opposition parties appreciated the Law Minister's move to write to various parties and seek views on the key issue of judicial reforms.

To a question as to whether there was a practice of the government writing to the judiciary on appointment of judges in the Supreme Court and the High Courts, the Law Minister said, it "periodically reminds the chief justices of the High Courts to initiate proposals in time for filling up the existing as well as the anticipated vacancies in the High Courts."

At the outset he said that pursuant to the Supreme Court judgement on October 6, 1993 read with the Advisory Opinion of October 28, 1998, the entire process of initiation of proposal for appointment of a judge of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justices of the High Courts rests with the Chief Justice of India and for the appointment of the judges of the High Court rests with the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court.