Zee Media Bureau/Ritesh K Srivastava
New Delhi: In a major political victory for the Narendra Modi government, the Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the landmark National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014, which was unanimously cleared by the Lok Sabha yesterday.
The Bill was passed by a voice vote in Rajya Sabha following a detailed discussion on the government`s proposal to scrap the existing collegium system for appointment of judges in higher judiciary.
A Constitution Amendment (121st) Bill to facilitate the establishment of a Commission to appoint judges to higher judiciary was also passed by majority in the Upper House.
This bill, too was passed by the Lok Sabha yesterday.
The two measures were taken up separately after questions were raised by members over legislative competence of the House amid apprehensions that it could be struck down by the judiciary as `ultra vires`.
A determined government asserted that Parliament is supreme and competent enough to enact laws and that it has no intention of transgressing on independence of the judiciary through the new law.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad underlined that the new measure of appointing judges to Supreme Court and High Courts will come into effect only after ratification of the Constitution Amendment Bill by 50 percent state assemblies.
The process could take up to eight months. After ratification, the government will send it to the President for his approval.
With this step, the collegium system of judges appointing judges will be changed with a six-member Commission headed by Chief Justice of India making the appointments and transfers.
The collegium system had recently come under attack from political parties and others, especially after revelations about corruption involving judges.
The Constitution Amendment Bill seeks to lay down the architecture for setting up of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) through another enabling bill.
After the bill becomes law, the government will have a say in the appointment of Supreme Court and High Court judges after 21 years. Once the Commission is formed, 266 vacancies for judges in 24 High Courts are likely to be filled expeditiously. The Supreme Court, which has a sanctioned strength of 31, also has one vacancy. The appointment of new judges is also expected to speed up the backlog of legal cases in courts across the country.
Under the statute amendment bill, Chief Justice of India will head the NJAC. Besides the CJI, the judiciary would be represented by two senior judges of the Supreme Court. Two eminent personalities and the Law Minister will be the other members of the proposed body.
While two members of the NJAC can veto any appointment, the President can return the recommendation for "reconsideration". Under the now-dropped provisions, once the NJAC "unanimously" reiterates the recommendation, the President will have no option but to accept it.
On Tuesday, during the debate in the Lok Sabha, the Law Minister had said that the government favours independence of judiciary but the "sanctity" and "supremacy" of Parliament is equally important as it reflects aspirations of the people.
(With agency inputs)