LS okays judicial appointments commission bill

21-year-old collegium system set to go

LS okays judicial appointments commission bill

The 21-year-old collegium system of appointing and promoting judges will soon be history with the Lok Sabha putting its stamp of approval on creating a six-member National Judicial Appointments Commission.

The Modi government scored a significant victory by agreeing to the Congress’ demand to drop a word in a clause of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Bill that required unanimity in the panel if the President returned the Commission’s recommendations for reconsideration.

Along with NJAC Bill, the 99th Constitution Amendment Bill, which seeks to confer Constitutional status on the proposed Commission, was passed by 367 members voting in favour and none against.

Since members have not been allotted division numbers, the voting took place through distribution of slips. Narendra Modi became the first prime minister in 10 years to have participated in voting on a Bill in the Lok Sabha.

Congress leader and former Law Minister M Veerappa Moily had objected to a provision that required the Commission to make a unanimous recommendation in case President seeks reconsideration of some appointment to the higher judiciary.

The Congress was mulling moving amendments to the bill in the Rajya Sabha where it has numerical strength. “The unanimity issue goes and if two members say ‘no’, it will be considered,” Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha.

That the government was serious in pushing the bill was evident as the Constitution Amendment bill was moved for consideration in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday evening, raising hopes for its passage on Thursday. The Lok Sabha nod to the Bill comes in the wake of Chief Justice of India R M Lodha’s strong defence of the collegium system of appointment of judges. 

The commission will be headed by the Chief Justice of India and will have as its members, two judges of the Supreme Court, the Union law minister and two eminent jurists.

The Law Minister said the proposed law did not impinge upon the independence of the judiciary and will provide for wider consultation on  appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts.

He defended the “veto” power of any two members of the Commission, saying that the provision is part of the present collegium system also. “We have made consultations more meaningful,” Prasad said.

The government rejected demand from regional parties to have state-level judicial commissions contending that even appointments to the High Courts were made by the President and not the Governor.

However, he said the Governor and the Chief Minister would be consulted by the Commission before making state-level appointments.

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