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Modi Government’s ties with Judiciary in last three years is a Roller Coaster ride of sorts

May,25,2017:

Post striking down of NJAC in Oct,2015 relations were far from normal.

PM Modi and Ex. CJI Thakur
PM Modi and Ex. CJI Thakur

Within the three months of getting massive mandate in the May 2014 elections, Narendra Modi Government introduced National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Bill to scrap much-criticised collegium system for selection of judges to High Courts and Supreme Court. Parliament passed it unanimously.

More than 20 states ratified it.

Product of rare unanimity in polity, NJAC was struck down as unconstitutional by Supreme Court in October 2015. A whiff of the executive presence through Law Minister in Committee to select the judges, Supreme Court stated that it posed a grave danger to the judicial independence.

In December 2015, SC acknowledged the heavy criticism of opaqueness and the arbitrariness in collegium system and handed Centre an impeding device by asking it to frame a new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) to finetune the one that was about two decades old.

Till January 2015, cordiality in relation between Government and Judiciary was evident from then CJI H L Dattu’s lavish praise on Modi.

He had described Modi as a “good leader, a good human being and a man with foresight”. He had also added that “Government has not said no to any proposal given by me. Till date, their response to the demands of the judiciary has been very good.”

Stinging blow of striking down NJAC Act, hyped by Government as a revolutionary step to make the judges’ appointments transparent, continues to hurt Modi government. Despite this, Modi government created a record by appointing 126 HC judges in 2016.

But, with the vacancies crossing 40% mark in the HCs, judiciary kept accusing executive of stalling collegium’s recommendations.

In April 2016, the then CJI T S Thakur threw a tearful barb at Government at a public meeting in presence of PM Modi, accusing it of stalling appointments.

Heading a bench in SC, the then CJI Thakur took up matter on the judicial side and berated executive for not listening to cries of the justice of those languishing in the jails as their cases were not being taken up due to shortage of judges. The Centre stood to its ground, telling Apex Court that SC itself had asked for finalisation of an MoP for a more transparent system on appointment of the judges.

The judiciary has since finalised MoP, but Government is yet to sign it and seal it. If NJAC was a clash on constitutional principles, NDA Government suffered two quick political reversals in the  year 2016 as SC annulled President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand by reviving dismissed Congress-led Governments.

Apex Court heaped discomfort on Modi Government by undertaking detailed scrutiny of two of its pet decisions demonetisation and the Aadhaar card. Both cases are still pending.

What came as last straw in uneasy relationship was SC’s steadfast refusal to review its mid-2016 decision making it mandatory to register FIR against the Armed Forces Personnel in each encounter death, even if it happened in the ‘disturbed’ areas where AFSPA is imposed.

SC and Centre were on same page when it came to scrutinising accounts of the NGOs that receive Government funds. They were also one on constitutional validity of the criminal defamation provision (section 499/500) of the IPC.

What came as a big relief for Modi Government was the Apex Court’s decision to dismiss PIL for seeking probe into Corporate Diary recovered by the Income Tax Officials noting the alleged bribes paid to the political leaders, including the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

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