Despite drawing flak from the judiciary, government on Wednesday defended its decision to return the recommendation of the Supreme Court collegium to appoint senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium as a judge of the apex court, saying its move was based on "proper, cogent and sound" grounds.
"In the process of appointment (of judges), Government has got the right to be consulted. And whatever opinion Government has given, is based upon cogent, proper and sound grounds," Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters here but refused to elaborate on the Executive's reservations against Subramanium.
Prasad was responding to questions on the strong displeasure voiced by Chief Justice of India RM Lodha over Government "unilaterally" segregating Subramanium's name from three others who were appointed to the top court.
"I fail to understand how the appointment to a high constitutional post has been dealt with in a casual manner. The segregation of Gopal Subramanium's file was done unilaterally without my knowledge and concurrence which was not proper," Justice Lodha had said.
Latching on to CJI's criticism, Congress accused the Narendra Modi government of playing vendetta politics and committing grave breach of constitutional norms. "There is no doubt in the nation's mind that the sole and only sin committed by Gopal Subramanium is that as Amicus Curiae he gave adverse report" on Modi government in Gujarat, party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.
Insisting that "all other reasons are fig leaf of pretences and excuses", Singhvi, himself a senior lawyer, said that the Government action against Subramanium smacks of "pettiness".
However, Prasad asserted that Government has the right to be consulted in appointment of judges in the higher judiciary.
At the same time, Prasad said Government has the "highest regard" for the Judiciary, the Supreme Court and the CJI."I want to reiterate very firmly that the Narendra Modi government has the highest respect for the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, is an article of faith for this government. We have the highest respect for the Chief Justice of India," the Law Minister said.
Former Law Minister and Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said the Modi Government was entering into a "danger zone of confrontation with the Judiciary" and the anguish on the part of the Chief Justice was justified.
"The government cannot assert itself in the absence of any amendment to the Constitution," he said.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said it was an "unsavoury controversy" which has now come to an end. "The Chief Justice has made his own comments because he was not here and came back from abroad on June 28 only. It is his own feeling and I cannot comment on the merits and de-merits of what he said.
"The gentleman (Subramanium) whose name was recommended has himself dropped out of the race. The issue is over and is being blown up only by the press," he said.
Withdrawing his consent for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court, Subramanium had accused the Modi Government of "brazenly" ordering CBI to "scrounge" for "dirt" against him to scuttle his elevation.
Subramanium, who had assisted the apex court in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case in which Amit Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Narender Modi is an accused, had said that he was being "targeted" because of his independence and integrity.
He suggested that his role as amicus curiae, a friend of the court, in the Sohrabuddin case, could have been the reason for Government opposing his elevation, although he had no direct evidence.