Parliament’s debate on judiciary

I was lucky to watch the debate in Lok Sabha yesterday on the Bill (on the Lok Sabha channel) to increase the Judges’ salaries. Though the attendance in the House was thin, the House did witness a lively debate before the passage of the Bill. (You can use the link here to read the full debate, by directly going to the time of the debate, that is, 14.06, when it started). The synopsis of the debate can be read here from p.8 to 24.

It is worth reading the debate because the media has completely ignored it. Ironically, when Bills are passed without debate, the media takes notice, but when debate does take place, the media has no space for it. However, there are other reasons why the debate is worth reading. A Judge in the Bombay High Court has refused to accept this month’s salary because the increment was first sanctioned through an Ordinance. Interestingly, the Members as well as the Speaker were agitated about the urgency displayed by the Government in hiking the salaries. The Law Minister has replied that Ordinance was necessary because some of the Judges telephoned him to correct the disparity in pay immediately, and it was not fair to let the judiciary nurture a grievance. But was it too urgent to justify the ordinance route? The Bill passed yesterday could have given the raise in salaries of the Judges with retrospective effect.

The debate is hilarious for other reasons as well. The Law Minister said he was senior in age and experience to the present Chief Justice of India; therefore, Government was not bound to follow the CJI’s letter to the Prime Minister seeking the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court. The Minister was clearly indicating that he did not see any merit in the allegations against Sen, besides pointing out that securing requisite number of signatures of MPs to initiate the impeachment process would be impractical.

The Law Minister was at his provocative best on other issues: that he did not agree with the 1993 Advocates-on-Record judgment of the Supreme Court giving primacy to the Collegium, or even the SC’s judgment in the Kesavananda Bharati case putting fetters on the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution. “Parliament is supreme, and the Supreme Court is accountable to the Constitution”, he said, leaving one to wonder whether Parliament is not accountable to the Constitution. The issue of ordinance increasing the Judges’ salaries, and the failure to enact the Bill to create the National Judicial Commission, despite all-party consensus on it, are two instances of this Government’s extraordinary deference to the Judiciary.

Also read:

PRS Legislative Research’s summary of the bill to raise the salaries of Judges.

The Bill as introduced in the Lok Sabha.

V.R.Krishna Iyer’s article in The Hindu admonishing the Judiciary for seeking a salary-hike.

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