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2022 saw fresh attack on collegium system; record appointments in HCs

NEW DELHI: Amid a renewed attack mounted by the government on the collegium system of appointing members to the higher judiciary, a “record” 138 judges were appointed to the various high courts this year.

Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who has been questioning the collegium system, dubbed it as being “alien” to the Constitution.

He also said that the issue of vacancies and appointments in the higher judiciary would continue to linger till such time a new system is created for the same.

Seeking to overturn the collegium system, Parliament had passed – with near unanimity – the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act which was given constitutional status.

The government brought into force the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 on April 13, 2015.

However, both the Acts were challenged in the Supreme Court which eventually declared both the laws as unconstitutional and void on October 16, 2015.

After the judgment, the collegium system returned.

In a recent written reply in Parliament, Rijiju had said that “Representations from diverse sources on lack of transparency, objectivity and social diversity in the collegium system of appointment of judges to the constitutional courts (SC and the HCs) are received from time to time with the request to improve this system of appointment of judges.”

But at the same time, he has made it clear that there is no proposal at present to reintroduce a bill on National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).

Amid a standoff between the government and the Supreme Court Collegium over the appointment of judges, a parliamentary panel had recently asked the Executive and the Judiciary to come up with an “out of box thinking” to deal with the “perennial problem” of vacancies in high courts.

The committee also said that it is ‘surprised” to note that the Supreme Court and the government have failed to reach at a consensus on revision of the Memorandum of Procedure for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts, though the same is under consideration of both for “about seven years now”.

The committee expected the government and the judiciary to finalise the revised MoP, which is more efficient and transparent.

MoP is a set of documents which guide the appointment, elevation and transfer of Supreme Court and high court judges.

On November 25, the government asked the Supreme Court Collegium to reconsider 20 files related to appointment of high court judges.

The government had expressed “strong reservations” about the recommended names.

Out of the 20 cases, 11 were fresh cases and nine were reiterations made by the top court collegium.

Late last year, Parliament had cleared amendments to the Representation of the People Act.

In June this year, the government issued rules allowing linking of electoral roll data with Aadhaar on a voluntary basis, making electoral law gender neutral for service voters and enabling young citizens register as voters four times a year instead of the present one.

Now a citizen who turns 18 on the January 1 or April 1 or July 1 or October 1 in a calendar year can immediately apply for voter registration.

The four qualifying dates will considerably enhance the voter base.

Till recently, January 1 is the only cut-off date to register as a voter. Those turning 18 on or before January 1 can register as voters on day one of January. Those turning 18 after that have to wait for one whole year.

Seeking to make electoral law gender neutral, the word “wife” has been substituted with the word “spouse” making the statutes gender neutral which will allow the wife or husband of a service voter to avail the voting facility available.

Soldiers deployed in far-flung areas or members of Indian missions abroad are some of the people considered as service voters.

An army man’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a woman army officer’s husband is not, according to provisions in the electoral law. But now it has changed.

The poll panel had asked the law ministry to replace the term wife’ with spouse’ in the provision in the Representation of the People Act related to service voters.

Also, retired Karnataka High Court chief justice Rituraj Awasthi, who had headed the bench which delivered the hijab verdict, took charge as the chairperson of the 22nd Law Commission.

The current law panel was constituted on February 21, 2020, but its chairperson and members were appointed in October, months before the end of the panel’s three-year term. (PTI)

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