October,19,2015:Even as the Narendra Modi Government is undecided on its next course of action over the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), the Chief Justice of India has called a meeting of the Supreme Court collegium to recommend names for various High Courts.
Sources in the Supreme Court said CJI H L Dattu decided to initiate the process for convening a meeting of the three-member collegium comprising, besides himself, Justice T S Thakur and Justice A R Dave, immediately after a five-judge constitution bench declared the constitutional amendment aimed at replacing the collegium system of appointments to higher judiciary with the NJAC unconstitutional.
The CJI is learnt to have received recommendations from various high courts in this regard. On May 13, during a hearing, the bench had ordered that, as an interim measure, additional judges in high courts whose probation terms were ending would get an extension of three months or till the date of their superannuation, whichever was earlier. This three-month period is about to end in case of many such judges.
Since one of the members of the collegium, Justice Thakur, is out of the country for a week, it remains to be seen whether CJI Dattu calls a meeting of the expanded, five-judge collegium, by involving Justice Khehar and Justice Dipak Mishra in the same. Sources explained that the CJI has the option of seeking Justice Thakur’s views on the names over email or phone. While officially the government has only said that it would firm up its view on how to proceed on the Supreme Court judgment after carefully studying it, during the hearing of the bunch of petitions challenging the NJAC Act,
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had said the collegium system was “dead and buried forever” and it wouldn’t be revived even if the constitution bench quashed the NJAC. Rohatgi had asserted that Parliament would have to frame another legislation to deal with the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary in case the constitutional amendment and the NJAC were held unconstitutional.
It remains to be seen if, once the Supreme Court collegium recommends names, the government goes by the stand taken by Rohatgi in court or adopts a conciliatory tactic. This may also be necessary since the main opposition party, the Congress, has already announced its opposition to any move to re-legislate the NJAC.
While deputy leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma on Saturday told that, after the “watershed” Supreme Court judgment, there was no need to take any steps which could “lead to any kind of confrontation (with the court)” and that his party would “not be at all supportive of such a move”, eminent lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi too asked the government to “forget the past and look ahead”.
Unless the Congress plays ball, it will be impossible for the Modi government to get a constitutional amendment passed in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is not very comfortably placed.
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