In a much-awaited and landmark judgement on Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) is ‘unconstitutional and void‘.
The Supreme Court also held that the Collegium system as it existed before the NJAC is ‘operative’. Further, the bench listed the petitions on November 3 to invite suggestions to improve the working of the existing Collegium system.
Justice J.S. Khehar told the Centre and the petitioners, “Help us decide for a better system of judicial appointments.”
The verdict comes after a batch of petitions challenged the constitutional validity of the NJAC.
It was to have six members – the Chief Justice of India, the two most senior judges of the Supreme Court, two eminent persons, and the Law Minister. The two eminent Indians would be chosen by the Chief Justice, the PM and the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
The petitioners said that the NJAC is an infringement of the independence of judiciary as it dilutes the primacy of the Chief Justice of India in judicial appointments, as any two members of the commission could block any appointment by vetoing it.
Meanwhile, Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda said, “Surprised by the verdict of the Supreme Court. NJAC was completely supported by Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha; it had 100 per cent support of the people.”
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi criticised the SC ruling:
“It is a flawed judgement ignoring the unanimous will of the Parliament, half the State Legislatures and the will of the people for transparency in judicial appointments. It is inappropriate to revive the Collegium system. This judgement is not a case for review. The Parliament may take a call, I cannot speak for them.”
NJAC, which was proposed by the UPA-led government and was carried over by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government, was passed by both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
The NJAC Bill and the Constitutional Amendment Bill, was ratified by 16 of the state legislatures in India, and the President gave his assent on December 31, 2014. The NJAC Act became effective from April 13, 2015.
But days after the appointments panel was put in place, the Chief Justice of India, HL Dattu, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he would not be a part of it until the Supreme Court decides on its validity.
On Friday, the judges ruled that the independence of the judiciary is a basic structure of the Constitution and cannot be tampered with.