Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh says: “A Law Minister talking like an Outlaw. A Minister of Justice propagating Injustice. If this is not a threat to freedom AFTER speech what is?”
NEW DELHI – Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, already at loggerheads with the judiciary over the collegium system, has raked up another controversy by claiming that there were “three or four” retired judges who are part of an “anti-India” gang.
Anybody who has worked against the country “will have to pay a price”, he added.
Speaking at the India Today Conclave here on Saturday, Rijiju said there are a few retired “activist” judges who are trying to make the Indian judiciary play the role of an opposition party. “Some people even go to court and say, ‘Please rein in the government, please change the policy of the government’,” he said.
Rijiju’s remarks evoked an immediate response from several opposition leaders who took the minister to task for “talking like an outlaw” and “propagating injustice”, media reports on Sunday said.
Congress general secretary of communications Jairam Ramesh tweeted, “A Law Minister talking like an Outlaw. A Minister of Justice propagating Injustice. If this is not a threat to freedom AFTER speech what is?”
Trinamool Congress (TMC) Rajya Sabha MP Jawhar Sircar said, “A minister can’t make this statement and get away. Give proof. Don’t threaten. ‘(judges) will have to pay a price’. RSS didn’t participate in Freedom Struggle. and Hindu Mahasabha supported the British. Don’t give us pro-India, anti-India gyan!”
CPI(M) leader and former Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac said, “Kiren Rijiju, on the roll — now he threatens judges: ‘Some retired judges part of the anti-India gang; anyone against nation will have to pay’. Is he minister for law or lawlessness?”
Hitting out at Rijiju, lawyer and Rajya Sabha member Kapil Sibal said, “A few politicians in government are part of ‘the know not what they say gang’.”
Swaraj Abhiyaan member and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said, “A fellow who is unfit to be a munsif is threatening judges.”
At the conclave, the law minister continued his government’s attack on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for the statements in Britain that the BJP-led Union government is undermining democracy in India. Rijiju claimed that Gandhi uses the “same language” as some “anti-India gangs”. This language, he said, is repeated claims that in India, “democracy is in danger” and “human rights are non-existent in India”.
When Gaurav Sawant, the moderator, asked Rijiju if he was alleging that a senior MP was being part of the “tukde tukde gang“, he nodded in agreement. He said the government had insights about foreign funding enabling a “calibrated attack” on India, from outside and within, reports in a section of the media said.
He then spoke about a seminar in which judges and senior advocates participated. “The topic of the seminar was ‘Accountability in Judges Appointment’ but the discussion [the] whole day was how [the] government is taking over the Indian judiciary,” he continued.
“It is a few of the retired judges, few – maybe three or four – few of those activists, part of that anti-India gang, these people are trying to make the Indian judiciary play the role of an opposition party. Some people even go to court and say that and please rein in the government, please change the policy of the government.”
“Judiciary is neutral, judges are not part of any group of political affiliation. How can these people openly say that [the] Indian judiciary must take the [government] head on? What kind of propaganda is this?” he asked.
When Sawant asked what measures the government has taken against the “tukde tukde gang”, Rijiju said, “Actions will be taken, actions are being taken as per law. The agencies will take action as per the provisions of the law. Nobody will escape. Don’t worry, nobody will escape. Those who have worked against the country will have to pay a price for that.”
On the collegium system, Rijiju said that the constitution says the appointment of judges is the duty of the government, i.e., that the President of India will appoint judges of the Supreme Court and high courts in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and chief justices of high courts. He said that the constitution has no role for the judiciary to initiate and finalise the appointment of judges. “It was only later, because of the misadventure of the Congress party… the Supreme Court started acting – which some people describe as judicial overreach – that the collegium system came into existence,” he said.
He, however, added that until a new system is put in place, the Union government will follow the collegium system.
On the recent Supreme Court judgment that the appointment of election commissioners be on the advice of a committee consisting of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and the CJI, Rijiju said that judges are meant to primarily deliver judicial orders and work.
“If the CJI or judges of India sit on every important appointment, who will carry forward the judicial work?” he asked.