MPs corner Law Minister over NJAC
Law Minister Sadanand Gowda was cornered in the Lok Sabha today when MPs cutting across party lines slammed the quashing of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) law and criticised the judiciary for being a judge in its own cause.
“I can’t comment on the NJAC until the Supreme Court delivers its final verdict. They have sought suggestions to improve the collegium system. We are collating suggestions,” said the Law Minister facing tough questions not just from the Opposition but even from his BJP colleagues Nishikant Dubey and RK Singh, who opposed the NJAC quashing.
The occasion was the consideration of The High Court and Supreme Court Judges Salaries and Conditions of Service Amendment Bill, 2015, which revises the emoluments of judges upwards, including allowing them leave encashment on the basis of full allowances, including travel and telephone allowances. Many MPs, mainly RSP’s NK Premchandran, asked how full leave encashment can ever be allowed and how even telephone and travel allowances be counted for that encashment. “This does not happen anywhere,” Premchandran said.
The Bill was passed amid severe judiciary bashing by MPs with CPM’s AS Sampath demanding its withdrawal and all speakers seeking amendments to the Constitution to make the judiciary accountable to Parliament.
MPs’ objection to the Bill was the fact that it was brought on the basis of a March 31, 2014, Supreme Court judgment which recommended higher pensions for high court judges asking for such a raise to be implemented retrospectively from April 1, 2014.
“How can laws be implemented retrospectively? SC quashed NJAC and we are still listening to them? Is the Parliament defunct?” asked BJP’s Nishikant Dubey.
Former Home secretary-turned MP RK Singh embarrassed Gowda by saying: “The Minister must clarify how the SC can be a judge in its own cause (NJAC case) and how it can infringe on Parliament’s law making role (by ruling on judges’ emoluments)?”
Even Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai was unconvinced when the Minister said the government had brought the Bill not under the SC pressure but to correct some anomalies. “Judges to get pensions must have had 14 years experience in the post. When judges are elevated from the bar, they don’t manage these 14 years as they are elevated around 50 years and they get retired at 62. Good lawyers won’t come into judgeship if they don’t have incentives. The Bill corrects this anomaly to encourage lawyers to join judgeship given 400 high court vacancies,” Gowda said.
Thambidurai, however, took exception to Gowda’s remarks that good lawyers need incentives to join the judiciary but added that the SC can’t dictate laws to Parliament. Around two-thirds of the judges are elevated from the bar, while one-thirds are appointed from the judiciary service.
Earlier, MPs asked the Minister why the government did not come back to Parliament after the SC quashed the NJAC Act which both Houses and 20 state assemblies had unanimously passed.