Tax payers have a right to know quality of judges: Govt to Supreme Court
New Delhi: The government Friday told the Supreme Court that the tax payers had a right to know the quality of judges appointed to the higher judiciary, as it once again rubbed the collegium system "of judges appointing judges - for promoting judges who reserved judgments in hundreds of cases after long hearings but never pronounced them".
"A tax payer may say that I pay your (judges) salaries, I have a right to know who is going to be a judge," Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the constitution bench of Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.
Continuing his attack on the "nepotism" in the collegium system, he said that "a judge who has given not more than 50 judgments in 15 years during his stint with various high courts can't be elevated to the top court".
Citing the case of a judge who left hundreds of judgments reserved across various high courts and never pronounced them, Rohatgi said: "It is collegium that gave him laurels after laurels and brought him here (apex court) and sent him to NHRC (an apparent reference to the apex rights panel's acting chairperson Justice Cyriac Joseph)."
"It is a case of nepotism," he said as the bench reminded him that only on Thursday he was advocating giving women, SC/ST, weaker sections and minorities a voice in the National Judicial Appointments Commission under the eminent persons category, thereby indicating that the judge in question came under those consider ations.
Apparently contending that blame for some questionable appointments could not be laid at the doorsteps of collegium alone with the government washing its hands, Justice Khehar asked: "Did executive (government) object to it. The recommendation did not come from the NHRC but from the government."
"One case can't be a basis to read a rule to hammer the entire working of the collegium system," the court said as the Attorney General went on assailing the manner in which appointments were made in the past.
As a judge on the bench pointed out that the judge in question had pronounced 219 judgments during his stint with various high courts, Rohatgi contested this, saying he had pronounced only seven judgments out of which two were concurrent and he can produce records to support his claim.
Advocating a criteria-based, transparent system of appointment, Rohatgi said such undeserving appointments would not pass through the NJAC and that the manner in which the collegium sends recommendations is "not worthy of acceptance".
"The shroud of mystery that the collegium system had can only be lifted by the NJAC," he contended, adding that under this, an underperforming judge cannot be made chief justice.
Addressing the court's apprehensions that disclosure of information under RTI would make the job of selecting judge by the NJAC difficult, Rohatgi argued that it may not be necessary that all the information relating to the appointment of judges needed to be disclosed under the transparency law.
Urging the court to give a "purposive" interpretation as to what two eminent persons in the NJAC would mean, senior counsel K.K.Venugopal urged the court not to strike it down as such a course would reduce the NJAC to the collegium level with the CJI, two other seniormost judges and the union law minister.
Appearing for the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Madhya Pradesh, he asked the court to "put whatever limitation that may like to impose on it".
Hearing will continue on Monday.