Of the two names recommended by the Supreme Court collegium for elevation to the apex court, only one has been accepted by the Centre, which has paved the way for a fresh controversy, as several leaders across the political spectrum criticising the move.
The Congress questioned the NDA government's motives behind the decision, while the CPM demanded President Ram Nath Kovind's intervention.
The Congress termed the central government asking the Supreme Court collegium to reconsider its recommendation for elevation of Justice KM Joseph to the apex court as "revenge politics" and accused the government of "appointing judges only of their own choice".
The party also said the the independence of judiciary is in "danger", and if it does not protect its autonomy in one voice, "democracy will be in danger".
The government rejected the Supreme Court's recommendation of Joseph's elevation citing various reasons, including seniority. But it cleared the name of senior advocate Indu Malhotra, who took oath on Friday as a judge of the Supreme Court. Joseph is 42nd in the seniority list among 669 high court judges.
Citing the Supreme Court collegium's view that Joseph, currently Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, was "more deserving and suitable in all respects" than other chief justices and senior judges of high courts, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said that it seemed that the "government thinks he is not deserving".
"The Supreme Court's own website said this. Four months have passed; on Thursday, we got to know that government has returned the file and said more discussion is required on it. The central government wants those judges who only the government has approval over," Sibal said.
"The law says what collegium recommends, only they will be appointed. The government wants to ignore the collegium's recommendations. If it is not of their choice, they will not appoint him," he said.
Congress' communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala lashed out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter.
PM Modi’s ‘revenge politics’ qua judiciary & ‘conspiratorial suffocation’ of Supreme Court exposed again.
J. Joseph is India’s Sr most CJ. Yet Modi Govt refuses to clear his elevation to SC as retribution for quashing presidential rule in Uttrakhand? 1/2https://t.co/wbwaedSP8o
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) April 26, 2018
In another tweet, he said, "In June 2014, they refused to clear noted jurist G Subramaniam's name for elevation to Supreme Court as he was a lawyer against Amit Shah and Co." A bench headed by Joseph in 2016 had quashed the imposition of President's Rule in the state and had revived the Congress government headed by Harish Rawat. In a series of tweets, Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram asked if Modi government was "above the law". "Delighted that Indu Malhotra will be sworn in as Judge of the Supreme Court on Friday. Disappointed that Joseph's appointment is still on hold," Chidambaram, who is also a senior advocate, said. "What is holding up Joseph's appointment? His state, or his religion or his judgement in the Uttarakhand case?" he asked in another tweet.
What is holding up Justice K M Joseph's appointment? His State or his religion or his judgement in the Uttarakhand case? — P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) April 26, 2018
As the law stands now, the recommendation of the SC collegium is final and binding in the appointment of judges.
Is the Modi government above the law?
— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) April 26, 2018
CPM demands president's intervention
The CPM demanded Kovind's immediate intervention to ensure that laid-out procedure in the selection of judges is followed and the collegium's recommendation to elevate Joseph to the Supreme Court is cleared. In a statement, the Left party accused the BJP-led NDA government of "unwarranted intrusion" into the selection process.
"The government has not cleared the appointment of Joseph. This is an unwarranted intrusion into the selection process of a judge and will affect the independence of the judiciary.
"The President of India must immediately intervene to ensure that the laid-out procedure is followed and the appointment of Joseph is cleared, " the CPM said.
JD(U) accuses govt of 'interfering in judiciary'
JD(U) leader and former Rajya Sabha member Sharad Yadav said the government was "interfering" in the judiciary.
"It is a very serious matter and I will request the apex court judges to come forward and ensure that the people's faith in the judiciary remains intact," he said.
"This (the issue of Justice Joseph's elevation to the Supreme Court) shows that the government is interfering in the (matters of the) judiciary and all constitutional institutions in a big way," the veteran leader told reporters in New Delhi.
BJP stands by Centre's decision
Amid all the controversy, however, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said all political parties must ensure that the dignity of constitutional institutions like the courts was not diminished under any circumstances.
"All of us, be it the ruling party or the Opposition parties or any government or non-government organisation, must try to ensure that the people's trust in constitutional institutions remains intact. This is necessary for a healthy democracy," he told reporters in Gandhinagar.
A regular petitioner in the apex court, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said the Congress stand on the issue reflected its frustration.
Malhotra will be the first woman judge to be appointed to the top post directly from the bar.
Swamy said, on the issue of delay in Joseph's appointment, that the Congress party is just frustrated. "On one hand, they accuse the CJI being inclined to BJP and on the other, they are saying we have ignored him. The Congress party is just frustrated," he said.
Meanwhile, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad criticised the Congress for attacking the Modi government. "The whole record of the Congress party is littered with instances of superceding judges who were found to be inconvenient... the legendary judge HR Khanna who gave the dissenting judgement during Emergency and upheld the freedom of Indians was denied the post of chief justice even for two months and superceded by a junior," he said.
He alleged that the "real provocation" for imposition of Emergency was a judgment of the Allahabad High Court against Indira Gandhi. "They (Congress) have meted out unfair treatment to the judiciary during their rule," Prasad said.
The minister said leaders of the BJP had fought for freedom of press and judiciary during the Emergency. "That is our commitment. We have fought for the cause of independence of the judiciary, Congress should stop lecturing us," he said.
On 22 January, the apex court collegium's file recommending the elevation of Joseph and Malhotra had reached the law ministry.
After processing the file in the first week of February, the recommendations were kept in abeyance as the government wanted to elevate only Malhotra. But now, the government has gone ahead with the appointment of Malhotra and asked the collegium to reconsider the elevation of Joseph.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2018 15:05:26 IST