Bishwajit Bhattacharyya, 63, senior advocate and former additional solicitor general of India, was among the first petitioners to challenged the constitutional validity of the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC). He tells Mayank Mishra and N Sundaresha Subramanian that the verdict of the five-judge Constitution Bench has saved democracy and that he would challenge any future attempt to meddle with the fundamental structure of the Constitution. Edited excerpts:
What are your initial responses to the verdict?
I am very happy. Indian democracy has been saved. Rule of the law has been held supreme as the attempt of the executive to be part of the process of appointment of judges has failed. The executive is the largest litigant in the country. A litigant can’t be part of the process of selection of judges. The stature of the Supreme Court has gone up manifold and message has gone loud and clear all over the world.
In response to questions from reporters soon after the verdict, the attorney general said the court has invited suggestions on the collegiums system, which showed that all was not well with it. What are your thoughts on that?
Every system needs improvement. But NJAC was a disaster in as much as it would have eroded the independence of the judiciary and democracy would have collapsed. If judiciary, executive and legislature toe each other’s line, that can give way to the worst form of tyranny.
Doesn’t judges appointing judges lead to conflicts of interest?
That judges were appointing judges is a misconception. The President appoints the judges in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI). After NJAC, CJI became one in six. The only power he had was to fix the time and place of the meeting of the Commission. The institution of CJI was hugely compromised.
What is your response to the concerns that will of the people expressed through the legislature has been subverted by the Supreme Court?
Rule of law reigned supreme. People's will is only to elect representatives so that they obey and not violate the constitution. The judiciary has all the powers to strike down any legislation or constitutional amendment if it tries to alter the fundamental structure of the constitution.
What should be the response of the government?
The government should concentrate on basic facets of governance, try to make the judiciary stronger and independent and allocate more resources to improve its infrastructure. The government must refrain from any attempt to dilute the independence.
The collegium system had several flaws as manifested in several instances of irregularities in appointments presented before the court during arguments. What is your take?
The fact that the supreme court is inviting suggestions from the petitioners as well as the government shows that the court is very serious to improve the system.
What suggestions do you have in mind to improve the system?
I will give my suggestions to the court.