JAC can resolve allegations of the Katju kind
Former Supreme Court (SC) judge Markandey Katju’s allegations of an improper extension granted to a Madras High Court judge in 2005 has caused a furore, and while the NDA is placing the blame at the UPA’s doorstep, it doesn’t help that the Chief Justice of India RM Lodha has said the NDA government unilaterally removed Gopal Subramanium’s name as an SC judge after the SC collegium had recommended his name. As for the collegium, it has been argued by many, it is an opaque process. In 2009, the Central Information Commission asked the SC to disclose file notings it exchanged with the government on certain appointments, but the court registry saw this as an intrusion in the judiciary’s functioning—the registry’s appeal is now before the SC which is effectively judging its own cause.
Which is why the government’s proposal of a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC)—the UPA cabinet cleared a constitutional status for it—needs to be fast-tracked as it brings in more transparency while evening the scales between the judiciary and the executive while choosing the country’s future judges. The JAC will consist of three Supreme Court judges, the law minister, the law secretary as its convener, and two eminent persons who will be appointed by a body comprising the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. The Constitution, in turn, will be amended to allow for the President to appoint judges on the recommendation of the JAC. Once the JAC is in place, hopefully, there will be quick progress on that other big problem facing the judiciary, that of a growing shortage of judges. While the shortage of judges is around 29% in states like Punjab and Haryana, it is as high as 50% in states like Manipur. Hardly surprising, then, that nearly 45 lakh cases are pending in various high courts —the figure is over 10 lakh for the Allahabad high court alone—and another 2.7 crore in the lower courts.