The Union cabinet on Thursday approved two major laws that will put it in direct confrontation with the judiciary.
In the first instance, it approved an amendment to the Representation of People Act (RPA) to reverse the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict disqualifying convicted legislators.
The creation of a Judicial Appointment Commission (JAC) so that the government has a bigger say in the appointment of superior judges is the second one, and is likely to raise the hackles of the judiciary.
Leaders of almost all political parties had urged the government to move a bill in the current session of Parliament to replace the existing collegium system for judicial appointments to the SC and high courts. Just last week, the chief justice of India (CJI) had defended the collegium system, saying he was consulting other judges to prevent political pressure in the appointment of judges.
Currently, all appointments of the judges are recommended by the collegium of five SC judges headed by the CJI. A constitution bench of the apex court, which had approved the collegium system, had made it mandatory for the government to accept collegium recommendations. The government can return the recommendations file only once to the CJI for reconsideration.
The law on judicial appointments involves the setting up of a commission to be headed by the CJI. The Union law minister, two eminent personalities and two Supreme Court judges will be members of the commission, and the law secretary will serve as its member secretary.
The two eminent persons will in turn be decided by a panel of the CJI, the prime minister and opposition leaders in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha.
Earlier in the day, law minister Kapil Sibal had informed the Lok Sabha that the government has “in-principle” support of political parties to bring such a bill by amending the Constitution.
It is, however, not clear if the amendments cleared by the cabinet will also overturn another Supreme Court ruling that barred those in police or judicial custody from contesting elections, as agreed in an all-party meeting earlier this month.
On July 10, the SC had struck down a provision in the electoral law that protects a convicted lawmaker from disqualification on the ground of pendency of appeal in higher courts. The apex court also made it clear that MPs, MLAs and MLCs would stand disqualified on the date of conviction.