The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice J S Khehar, deserves to be congratulated for having resolved the impasse over the judicial appointment procedure. While his predecessor, Justice R S Thakur cried himself hoarse about the huge pendency of courts and blamed the Centre for dragging its feet over judicial appointments, Justice Khehar has found a way out without compromising on principles and paved the way for quicker appointment of judges.
That there were flaws and shortcomings in the collegium system that needed to be reformed was well accepted. What was needed was a forward push. Indeed, the collegium headed by the Chief Justice has finalised the memorandum of procedure (MoP) which was the real bone of contention.
Without standing on false prestige, it has agreed to the national security clause that the Centre had insisted upon as one of the grounds for determination of eligibility of appointment of judges to the apex court and high courts. Justice Khehar had headed the bench that had struck down the judicial appointments bill.
In another decision, the apex court collegium has dropped its reservations about setting up secretariats in the Supreme Court and each high court to maintain databases on judges and to assist the collegiums in the apex court and in high courts in selection of judges. That these reforms in terms of judicial appointments were necessary is borne out by the example of the appointment of Justice Karnan who was appointed under the collegium system and is on the warpath against fellow-judges.
Recently, the Supreme Court issued a bailable warrant against Justice Karnan of the Calcutta High Court in a matter related to contempt of court proceedings. The case was initiated after Justice Karnan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding that several of his fellow judges in the apex court and high courts be investigated for corruption.
Despite orders to appear before it, Justice Karnan remained defiant by stating that he was no servant of the Supreme Court. On Friday, he reportedly ordered the CBI to investigate the seven Supreme Court judges who had issued the warrant against him, including Chief Justice Khehar. These developments have clearly hurt the image of the judiciary. Apart from corruption allegations, Justice Karnan has also raised the issue of caste discrimination against him and has said that he was being victimised by upper caste judges since he was a Dalit.
Justice Khehar has shown the way in indicating that it is time for joint action with the Central government in finding ways to clear the huge backlog of cases — running to about three crore in various courts in the country. One can only hope that he would not stop at this. Many structural reforms are waiting to be implemented to deliver speedy and effective justice.