Kapil Sibal, law minister in the government led by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said the government is attempting to “take over” the judiciary — “the last citadel of freedom” — and the courts will stand firm against this. In the backdrop of the tussle over judges’ appointment and a series of comments from the Centre on bringing back the scrapped law on judicial appointments, Mr Sibal made it clear that while the current Collegium system has its drawbacks, giving a carte blanche to the government is not the way forward.
Over the last weeks, the matter has escalated, with the Centre’s clearance of the Collegium’s recommendations getting increasingly delayed. On the other hand, various leaders, including law minister Kiren Rijiju and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, made a flurry of critical comments on the judiciary, leading to an escalation of the issue.
In an exclusive interview to NDTV today, Mr Sibal said the government wants not a say, but the “final word” on judges’ appointment”. Giving it that power will be a “disaster”, he added.
Asked about the comments of law minister Kiren Rijiju, who at one point warned that the government will “not sit silently forever,” Mr Sibal retorted, “They have not been silent on any other issue, why would they be silent on this?”
“This is the last citadel of freedom they have yet to capture. They captured all other institutions — pardon my saying — from the Election Commission to post of Governors to Vice Chancellors of universities to the ED (Enforcement Directorate) and the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), the NIA (National Investigation Agency) and of course the media,” he said.
He termed the comments of the law minister that the courts take “too many vacations” “entirely inappropriate”.
Pointing out that the law minister “is not a practicing advocate”, Mr Sibal, who routinely appears in the Supreme Court, said a judge spends 10 to 12 hours a day siting, hearing petitions, reading up backgrounds of next day’s hearing, and writing judgments. His vacations, while entirely justified and necessary, are spent handling spillovers.
Courts, Mr Sibal pointed out, work much harder than MPs: “In the last one year, from January to December, Parliament has worked 57 days. The court works for 260 days in a year… Have the courts asked why you (parliament) are not working?” he added.
Earlier this month, Mr Dhankhar, in his maiden address in Rajya Sabha, raised the NJAC — the scrapped law on judicial appointments — and accused the Supreme Court of compromising “parliamentary sovereignty” and ignoring “the mandate of the people”.
There has been a pushback from the Supreme Court, which said the Collegium system is the “law of the land” which should be “followed to the teeth” – till another law comes in and survives constitutional scrutiny.
Following Mr Rijiju’s comments on vacation, Justice DY Chandrachud has made it clear that the vacation bench will not be available during the two weeks of winter vacation which started on December 19.