Modi Govt Undermining Judiciary’s Autonomy, Independence: PUCL 

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People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) also mentioned Vice President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Jagdeep Dhankhar’s statement criticising the Supreme Court’s decision in Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala as setting a “bad precedent”.

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — The Narendra Modi government has started discrediting and undermining the autonomy and independence of the country’s judiciary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has said.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the human rights watchdog said the “drumbeats against the judiciary, the only institution which is not totally within the government’s control, have become louder.” The PUCL was referring to Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju’s “first salvo” against the collegium system terming it opaque. “Then courts were excoriated (rightly so) for not being representative institutions in terms of caste background.”

PUCL also mentioned Vice President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of parliament) Jagdeep Dhankhar’s statement criticising the Supreme Court’s decision in Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala as setting a “bad precedent”.

Law Minister Rijiju has “again upped the ante” by writing to the Chief Justice of India on January 16 “asserting” that the executive should be represented in a ‘search–cum–evaluation committee for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court,” the statement said.

The PUCL statement said: “It is vital that civil society responds to this attempt to delegitimize the judiciary using various stratagems.”

The PUCL deplored “the concerted, systematic and relentless attack on the collegium system of appointment of the judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court.” 

The government, PUCL said, has made clear that it views PILs seeking accountability from the government as well as bail petitions as irritants and has gratuitously advised the Supreme Court not to hear bail petitions or “frivolous PILs”. 

“The strident attacks on the judiciary by the law minister is clearly part of the Central Government’s strategy to undermine and discredit the judiciary and to accept the primacy of the Central Government’s role, not just in the appointment of judges but verily in influencing the way the judiciary functions. The aim is to neutralise and subvert the independent role envisaged by the Constitution for the constitutional courts,” the PUCL asserted.

Referring to Vice President Dhankar’s statement criticising the apex court for striking down the National Judicial Appointment Commission in 2015 as undoing the will of the people and stating that “the world does not know any such instance,” the PUCL said it has “only added to the atmosphere of concern”.

PUCL stressed the critical role an independent judiciary should play in the present period, when the “ruling party has used its brute majority in Parliament to ram through critical laws with hardly any discussion, within or outside Parliament, many of which have been constitutionally challenged before the Supreme Court”.

PULC pointed to the “systematic subversion” of other important constitutional institutions which are meant to play an independent role as monitors of democracy such as the Election Commission, NHRC, CBI, ED and Income Tax Department before the attacks on the judiciary.

PUCL criticised the collegium’s “lack of transparency and accountability”, which resulted in the “preservation of caste, class, gender and community privileges, nepotism and favouritism, and the lack of capability, fairness, efficiency and integrity among Judges” and called for urgent reforms.

Pointing to the advantages of the collegium system despite the “shortcomings”, PUCL said that it was the “product of historical circumstances when the Supreme Court had to confront brazen attempts by the executive to hijack the judicial appointment process by packing the court with its nominees”.

Despite the “serious shortcomings” of the collegium system, there are judges in high courts and the Supreme Court who have a sense of fidelity to the values of the Constitution and to their oath to ‘maintain true faith and allegiance to the Constitution’.”

“Be it with respect to matters concerning bail in UAPA cases or the hijab ban matter in the Supreme Court, some Judges have stood in defence of the Constitution even if it meant opposing the government’s will,” the statement said.

The Union government, the PUCL said, has also “consciously demonstrated that it was not averse to penalising those judges who have shown independent thinking or whose values are not aligned with the government.” The PUCL referred to the transfer of Justice Rajiv Shakder from Delhi High Court to Madras High Court (2016), Justice Abhay Thipsay from Bombay High Court to Allahabad High Court (2016) and the denial of the elevation of Justice Jayant Patel as CJ, leading to his resignation.

The executive in its “pursuit of absolute power” is seeking to “delegitimise” and pave the way for “the destruction of the collegium system. “It is no coincidence that these attacks are taking place during the tenure of Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, who is expected to fulfill his oath to ‘bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution’ even at the cost of going against the will of the executive,” the PUCL said.

Reminding the public that the judiciary’s autonomy and independence are at “stake”, PUCL said, “Constitutionally minded citizens and civil society groups need to stand up to collectively raise their voices and demand that the Central government and its functionaries stop the public attacks on the collegium and the judiciary, abide by the spirit of the Constitution and respect its values, ethos and proprieties.”

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