New Delhi: Hours after the Supreme Court struck down the Constitution's 99th amendment and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act as unconstitutional, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday described the decision as a setback to parliamentary sovereignty but not to the government.
"While upholding very dearly the principle of independence of judiciary, I regret to say that parliamentary sovereignty has received a setback today," the Union Communications and Information Technology Minister told reporters at the BJP headquarters here.
The minister maintained that the "NJAC was a part of judicial reforms that was exercised after deep consideration".
The Supreme Court earlier today restored the collegium system for appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.
"In our view, this exercise was undertaken after deep consideration of more than 20 years, as part of judicial reforms. We will go through the judgment and come out with a structured response," Prasad told reporters.
"It was a unique moment in the democratic polity of India that all political formations were unanimous that the collegium system needs to be replaced by the National Judicial Appointments Commission," said Prasad, a former law minister and himself a practising senior lawyer at the Supreme Court.
"Various commissions headed by eminent judges, Administrative Reforms Commission and different parliamentary committees recommended the NJAC," the union minister said.
"Even former chief justice of India JS Verma had publicly raised misgivings on the working of the collegium system and suggested a serious rethink," he added.
Prasad said the NJAC bill was brought in parliament in a "truly remarkable scenario".
"Our government brought the NJAC bill in a truly remarkable scenario in the country. There was complete political unanimity. The Lok Sabha passed it without a single dissent and in the Rajya Sabha there was only a single walkout and that too by Ram Jethmalani."
"Twenty state legislative assemblies unanimously approved it despite the continuous divide in the politics of India," he said.
In a "collective order", the constitution bench of Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice J Chelameswar, Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said the 99th amendment and the NJAC Act were unconstitutional and void.
"The constitution (99th Amendment) Act, 2014 is declared unconstitutional and void" and "The National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014, is declared unconstitutional and void", the court said.
While the experts said the NJAC was against the Constitution, Union Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda said that he would consult Prime Minister Narendra Modi and seek legal advice on the issue.
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After pronouncing the order, the court sought suggestions from the senior counsel who had appeared in the matter and bar for improved and transparent functioning of the collegium system.
Hearing for the same will take place on November 3.