New Delhi: Vice president Jagdeep Dhankhar opened a new front of attack on the collegium system on Wednesday, slamming the Supreme Court for scrapping the law passed by parliament to put in a place a new method of appointing judges.
Dhankar said that by scrapping the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC), which was established by an Act of parliament, the Supreme Court severely compromised parliamentary sovereignty and disregarded the mandate of the people.
Presiding over the Rajya Sabha for the first time as chairperson, the vice president any incursion by the three organs of the government into each others’ domains has the potential to upset the governance apple cart and asserted that all should respect the “Lakshman rekha”.
His remarks on NJAC’s scrapping come in the backdrop of frequent run-ins between the government and the judiciary over the appointment of judges. While Union law minister Kiren Rijiju has said the collegium system is opaque and lacks accountability, the top court has criticised the Centre for delaying and sitting on recommendations made by the collegium.
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, which described it as unconstitutional.
In his address, Dhankhar said, “Democracy blossoms and flourishes when its three facets – the legislature, the judiciary and the executive – scrupulously adhere to their respective domains”, adding that the doctrine of separation of powers must be respected.
“We are indeed faced with this grim reality of frequent incursions. This House is eminently positioned to take affirmative steps to bring about congeniality amongst these wings of governance. I am sure you all will reflect and engage in way forward stance,” the vice president said.
“This House needs to catalyse this wholesome environment to promote synergic functioning of constitutional institutions, emphasising need to respect Laxman Rekha,” he said.
Referring to the 99th Constitutional Amendment Act that entailed the formation of the NJAC, he said the “historic” parliamentary mandate on it was “undone by the Supreme Court on October 16, 2015 by a majority of 4:1 finding the same as not being in consonance with the judicially evolved doctrine of ‘Basic Structure’ of the Constitution”. There was “unprecedented” support for the Bill, he said.
“On August 13, 2014, Lok Sabha unanimously voted in its favour with there being no abstention. This House too, passed it unanimously on August 14, 2014, with one abstention. Rarely in parliamentary democracy, there has been such massive support to a constitutional legislation,” Dhankhar said.
There is no parallel to such a development in democratic history where a duly legitimised constitutional prescription has been judicially undone, he said.
This was a “glaring instance of severe compromise of parliamentary sovereignty and disregard of the mandate of the people of which this House and the Lok Sabha are custodians”, the vice president said.
Dhankhar also noted that it is disconcerting that on “such a momentous issue, so vital to democratic fabric, there has been no focus in parliament, now for over seven years”.
“This House, in concert with the Lok Sabha, being the custodian of the ordainment of the people, is duty bound to address the issue, and I am sure it will do so,” he said.
The historic NJAC Bill, passed unanimously by the Parliament, was undone by the Supreme Court using the judicially evolved doctrine of ‘Basic Structure’ of Constitution.
— Vice President of India (@VPSecretariat) December 7, 2022
The vice president called for all constitutional institutions “to reflect and give quietus to public display of adversarially challenging stance, trading or exchange of advisories emanating from these platforms”.
He also urged the members of the House to “proactively catalyse the evolution of wholesome cordial ecosystem ending this aberration”.
Dhankar also reminded the members of their responsibility in the smooth functioning of the House, saying obstruction and disruption of proceedings as parliamentary practice or option are antithetical to democratic values.
“Contemporaneous scenario on this count is concerning and makes it imperative for us to follow the high standards set in the Constituent Assembly. We need to be cognizant of severe public discomfort and disillusionment at lack of decorum in the temple of democracy,” he said.
This is not the first time that Dhankhar, after his election as vice president, has criticised the Supreme Court for scrapping the NJAC. On December 2, addressing the LM Singhvi memorial lecture, said he was “startled” that there was “no whisper” in parliament after the top court struck down NJAC. He had made similar comments at an event on Constitution Day (November 26) also.
(With PTI inputs)