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Judges appointment through NJAC is what people want: Govt tells SC

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New Delhi: The central government on Monday told the Supreme Court that it was the will of the people to have transparent, accountable and criteria-based appointment of judges through the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) instead of the collegium system whose working was shrouded in mystery.

Contending parliament and the 20 state assemblies, which have backed the NJAC, represented the people, 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 that it was the people who wanted the change in the method of judges’ appointment.

Describing the junked collegium system akin to “you scratch my back, I will scratch yours”, he sought to thrash the challenge to NJAC on the grounds that it compromised the independence of judiciary as judicial members of the commission were not in majority and did not have the “right to insistence” in the appointments.

Asserting that there was no primacy of judiciary in the constitution, Rohatgi told the court that the right to insist upon an appointment is not available to the judicial members of the NJAC comprising chief justice of India and two seniormost judges after him.

The court was told this in the course of the hearing of a batch of petitions including one by the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCAORA) along with the Bar Association of India, NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation and others challenging the constitutional validity of the constitution’s Ninety Nine Amendment Act, 2014 and NJAC Act, 2014.

Assailing the petitioners’ position that the NJAC is an assault on the independence of judiciary – described as the basic structure of the constitution, Rohatgi told the court that appointment of judges was not a part of such independence which only starts with after appointment in terms of their conditions of service and working.

However, on being questioned by the court, he conceded that even appointment of judges formed a part of independence of judiciary but a “very small” part.

Telling the court that it could not adjudicate on the “wisdom of the parliament” in choosing one model over another in appointment of judges, Rohatgi said that 1993 second judges verdict of judges appointing judges was “coloured by the expediency of the time then and the court should have changed it itself with things getting normal”, referring to the mid-1970s which saw the supercession and mass transfers of judges.

He said if the court had not corrected the position on its own then there were “no fetters on parliament to restore the original provision of article 124 of the constitution which gave government primacy in the judicial appointments”.

Defending NJAC, Rohatgi contended that under the new system, the government’s powers in the appointment of judges had been diluted, as it was one of the six members of the NJAC.

Scoffing at the suggestion that two eminent people on the NJAC will collude with the law minister to render judicial component ineffective, he said there was no reason why these two representing the diversity of society would not hold the CJI and two other judges in reverence.

Describing the resistance to NJAC as an “argument of psychosis” based on “surmises” and “possibility of abuse of the process”, he said a possibility can’t be a basis of challenge while any “actual abuse” can be addressed by the court.

Rohatgi, asserting that nine out of 10 names for the appointment of judges would get cleared without any dissent, argued: “If CVC (central vigilance commissioner) can be appointed by people at loggerheads (prime minister, home minister and leader of opposition) it is absurd to have a proposition that two eminent people on the NJAC will have a jaundiced or evil eye.” (IANS)

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Parliament In Sri Lanka Gets Dissolved, President Calls For Election

The U.S. State Department tweeted that it is deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved

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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena waves to supporters during a rally outside the parliamentary complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

ri Lanka’s president dissolved Parliament and called for elections on Jan. 5 in a bid to stave off a deepening political crisis over his dismissal of the prime minister that opponents say is unconstitutional.

An official notification signed by President Maithripala Sirisena announced the dissolution of Parliament effective midnight Friday. It said the names of candidates will be called before Nov. 26 and the new Parliament is to convene Jan. 17.

Sri Lanka has been in a crisis since Oct. 26, when Sirisena fired his prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa. Both say they command a majority in Parliament and had been expected to face the 225-member house Wednesday after it was suspended for about 19 days.

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Sri Lanka’s sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe holds a copy of the constitution of Sri Lanka as he attends a media briefing at his official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Foreign Minister Sarath Amunugama told The Associated Press Saturday that the reason for the president to dissolve Parliament was the need to go to the people to find a resolution to the crisis.

“On the 14th there was to be a lot of commotion and unparliamentary activities sponsored by the speaker,” Amunugama said. “The speaker was not planning to act according to the constitution and standing orders of Parliament.”

Sirisena’s supporters had been irked by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s announcement that he was going to call for a vote for either party to prove their support.

Miscalculation

“The dissolution clearly indicates that Mr. Sirisena has grossly misjudged and miscalculated the support that he might or could secure to demonstrate support in the Parliament,” said Bharath Gopalaswamy, director at U.S.-based analyst group Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. “At the end of the day, he is a victim of his own homegrown crisis.”

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Sri Lankan civil rights activists hold placards during a demonstration outside the official residence of ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Wickremesinghe has insisted his firing is unconstitutional. He has refused to vacate his official residence and demanded that Parliament be summoned immediately to prove he had support among its members.

Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe repeatedly denied.

Sirisena was critical of investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s long civil war against a Tamil separatist group, which ended in 2009. Rajapaksa, who ruled as president from 2005 to 2015, is credited as a hero by the ethnic Sinhalese majority for winning the conflict. But he lost a re-election bid in 2015 amid accusations of nepotism, corruption and wartime atrocities.

Constitutional question

Wickremesinghe’s camp is likely to contest Sirisena’s move because of constitutional provisions stating a Parliament can’t be dissolved until 4 ½ years after its election. The current Parliament was elected in August 2015.

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Sri Lankan former President Mahinda Rajapakse addresses journalists at his residence in Colombo, Sept. 22, 2018. Rajapakse has been appointed the Sri Lanka’s new prime minister. VOA

“It’s totally unconstitutional,” said Harsha de Silva, a member of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party and a former minister. “Sirisena has relegated the constitution to toilet paper. We will fight this dictator to the end.”

The party said in a Twitter message that it will meet the elections commissioner to discuss the constitutionality of Sirisena’s move.

US urges caution

The U.S. State Department tweeted that it is deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, “further deepening the political crisis.”

Also Read: Once a Hostage, Sri Lankan Sailor Now Helps Battle Somali Pirates

“As a committed partner of Sri Lanka, we believe democratic institutions and processes need to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity,” the statement said.

Earlier, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and two other lawmakers wrote to Sirisena warning that actions circumventing the democratic process could impact U.S. assistance, including a planned five-year aid package from the Millennium Challenge Corporation worth hundreds of millions of dollars. (VOA)