With Press Council of India chief pointing fingers at the corrupt judicial-political nexus, time is ripe for a thorough overhaul of the flagging judicial edifice in India. Markandey Katju, former Supreme Court judge and once the chief justice of the Madras High Court, has clearly front-paged the collusion between judges and politicians with his explosive ‘expose’, saying that at least three former chief justices of India (CJIs) might have compromised their hallowed positions and connived with former UPA regime in various capacities.
Even though the eye of the storm is a late, retired Madras HC judge, the ramifications are far wider than what meets the eye. The collegiums system, wherein a select coterie of SC and HC judges determines topmost appointments to apex and high courts, has rightly come under the scanner because of its continued opacity and tendency to shield the black sheep in the herd. Katju’s accusations are the latest in a long line of charges, formal and informal, that have been leveled at senior judges, especially SC justices, including corruption, fraudulence, conniving with bureaucrats and politicians and even sexual violations to boot.
In this light, it is imperative to review longstanding failings of judicial collegiums and substitute this gravely inadequate system with a more robust and transparent judicial appointments commission (JAC). Even though the JAC Constitution (120th Amendment) Bill, 2013 is pending to be debated in the lower and upper houses of Parliament, what needs to be taken into account as well is the proclivity of both legislature and the executive to meddle in the post-appointment affairs of the higher judiciary. Hence, while the bill, if passed, empowers Parliament to legally prescribe functions and procedures of the commission, it equally bolsters the legislature to influence court decisions, particularly in high-profile cases with massive revenue stakes and formidable public interest. What the new union government must ensure, therefore, is that transparency at all levels of functioning is instilled, and that every appointment, extension of term as well as denial of such must be supported with sufficient and justifiable reasons.