Says assault on higher judiciary ‘ill-advised’
New Delhi: Rajya Sabha MP and former law minister Kapil Sibal on Sunday accused the government of attempting to “capture” the judiciary and said it was trying its best to create a situation in which the NJAC in “another avatar” may be tested in the Supreme Court once again.
Sibal, 74, asserted the basic structure doctrine as enunciated in the Kesavananda Bharati verdict was very important in current times and dared the government to openly say if that is flawed.
He claimed the government has not adjusted to the fact that it does not have the final word on appointments in higher judiciary and resents it. “They are trying their best to create a situation in which the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) in yet another avatar may be tested in the Supreme Court once again,” Sibal told PTI in an interview.
His remarks come days after Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, who is also the Rajya Sabha chairman, again criticised the scrapping of the NJAC Act by the apex court. Dhankhar had also questioned the landmark 1973 Kesavananda Bharati case verdict, saying it set a wrong precedent and that he disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling that Parliament can amend the Constitution but not its basic structure.
The NJAC Act, which sought to overturn the collegium system of appointing Supreme Court and high court judges, was struck down by the top court in 2015 which described it as unconstitutional.
Asked about Dhankhar’s remarks, Sibal said, “When a high constitutional authority and a man who is well versed in the law makes a comment of this nature one has to first ask the question – is he speaking in his personal capacity or for the government.” Asked about the Rajya Sabha Chairman’s remarks on the Kesavananda Bharati case verdict, Sibal said if it is his personal opinion, he is entitled to it.
Sibal, however, came down heavily on Law Minister Kiren Rijiju for his critical comments against the judiciary and the collegium system, saying that it was “unfortunate” and a “matter of grave concern”.
Sibal alleged the objective of the government is quite clear and they want to “capture” the right to appoint judges to the higher judiciary and want their word to be final in this regard.
“If they manage to do that, that would not bode well for democracy. As it is, all institutions have been captured by them. The judiciary is the last citadel of freedom. If the final word on the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary is left to the government, they will fill these institutions with individuals whose ideology is aligned to that of the political party in power,” he alleged.
Sibal said the country is in “great difficulty” in view of the Chinese “intruding into our territory both in Ladakh as well as in Arunachal Pradesh”, the impending global recession; historic balance of trade in favour of China; absence of buoyancy in private investments; and household saving rates at a “historic low”.
In times like these an assault on the higher judiciary is “untimely and ill-advised”, Sibal asserted. Sibal also asserted that the Constitution is supreme as the power of judicial review resides with the court.