SC asks Centre if states debated NJAC

Court's poser comes after Gujarat counsel says the whole nation wants law

SC asks Centre if states debated NJAC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to clarify if the 20 state Assemblies had discussed and debated the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act (NJAC) before ratifying it.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice J S Khehar asked Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar to respond if the state Assemblies, which unanimously passed the law, had deliberated on it. The law officer said that he would file a full compilation giving details about each state legislature.

The court’s poser came on Gujarat counsel senior advcoate Tushar Mehta’s submission that the whole nation wanted the law replacing the collegium system of appointment of judges.

“Was there any debate in Gujarat Assembly or you just passed it without discussion,” the bench asked the counsel as he contended the whole nation wanted this law as all political parties in unanimous decision supported it apart from 20 states.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Bar Association differed with the Centre’s contention that quashing of the National Judicial Commission Appointment Act will not revive the collegium system for appointment of judges but said such a decision would strike at Parliament’s power.

“We want the independence of judiciary in widest term but it must be within the contours of the Constitution. If you (the SC) strike down the 99 th amendment Act, you will strike at the power of Parliament. If the amendment is set aside, your (SC) interpretation (of Article 124 of the Constitution) will prevail,” SCBA president senior advocate Dushyant Dave submitted before a five-judge Constitution bench. “If you (SC) quash the 99 th amendment Act, you will be whittling down power of Parliament to amend the Constitution as given under Article 368,” he added.

Solicitor General had on Monday told the SC that even if the NJAC Act was quashed, the collegium system of appointment of judges in top judiciary would not get revived and Parliament may declare it void. The bench, also comprising Justices J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh K Goel continued its hearing on a batch of PILs challenging the validity of the NJAC Act.

Supporting the law that replaced the collegium system of appointment of judges in HCs and the Supreme Court, Dave, however, urged the apex court to rely upon the Constituent Assembly debates for interpreting the Constitution, which never decided to give primacy to judiciary in appointment of judges. “Though the power of judicial review can’t be interfered with separation of power and independence of judiciary are part of the basic structure. Independence of judiciary qua appointment of judges was never envisaged in the original Constitution given by the Constitution-makers,” Dave said.

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