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The government on Thursday made it clear that it will not be an "adjudicator" in cases of alleged corruption in the judiciary and asked the judiciary to evolve a robust mechanism within to deal with complaints against judges.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also said any future move to bring a fresh law on judicial appointments will require a bipartisan decision after the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act was struck down by the Supreme Court.
Responding to a question on corruption charges against judges, he said the judiciary has to address the issue of complaints against judges.
"As far as the issue of corruption in the judiciary is concerned, the government does not wish to be an adjudicator. Any issue of impropriety must be addressed to the judiciary. The larger issue of impeachment (of a judge) will be dealt with by Parliament," he said.
The Law Minister also said the judiciary must address the issue of complaints through a robust mechanism, stressing this is important for the independence of the institution.
Prasad's remarks on robust mechanism assume significance because a new Memorandum of Procedure (MOP) — a guide to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and the 24 high courts — has been pending for nearly one-and-a-half years due to differences between the executive and the judiciary.
One of the changes suggested in the existing MoP by the government is the setting up of a secretariat to screen those who have been nominated for appointment as judges and deal with complaints against judges.
The Supreme Court collegium — a body of top five SC judges — had sent the draft MoP back to the government in March due to disagreements over several clauses.
Prasad refused to speak on the differences saying several differences have been resolved and the MoP is a "work in progress". He said though the new MoP has not been finalised, the appointment of judges continues.
There is already an in-house mechanism in the judiciary to deal with complaints against judges.
Differences between the executive and the judiciary escalated when Parliament passed the NJAC Act, but it was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional and void.
"Despite our reservations and 99.9 per cent unanimity in Parliament, we have accepted that decision," Prasad said.
Asked whether a similar new law could be brought, he said, "What is to be done in the future, I cannot say. Obviously, this will require a bipartisan decision", clearly indicating that a unanimous approach by Parliament was needed to bring a new law on judicial appointments to overturn the collegium system of judges appointing judges.
He said the present government has notified maximum appointments of judges since 1989. He said 249 judges in the 24 high courts have been appointed in the last three years of the Modi government.
The minister said a record 126 judges of the HCs were appointed in 2016 alone.
He, however, expressed concern on the large number of vacancies in the subordinate judiciary which, he said, has a vacancy of 6,000. He also said the entire responsibility of recruitment is in the domain of the respective high courts.
"Neither the Centre nor the states have much role to play in that," he added.
Prasad said the government is hopeful of setting up of a UPSC-type exam for appointment at the level of district judges. With the apex court, too, showing its willingness, he said, "It is moving in the right directions."