Has the Prime Minister destroyed the collegium system?

Posted on February 05, 2014, No Comments admin

There are a large number of public appointments which are expected to be on non-partisan lines. Government is a political entity. Appointments which are exclusively made by the political executive in the government fail to inspire confidence. It is for this reason that the collegium system has been mooted in relation to several appointments. Currently, the chairman and the members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Vigilance Commissioners, CIC and Information Commissioners and now the Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal are to be appointed by a collegium. The collegium for each of these appointments is differently constituted. The Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha is associated with each of these appointments. For the NHRC, even the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha is a member of the collegium.

As Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s tenure comes to an end, it is time for him to introspect the damage he has done to the collegium system. He puts on a veneer of straightforwardness but he is excessively political. When Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister during the NDA regime, there was only one occasion where the two LOPs had dissented to an appointment. The appointment to which Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh dissented was that of the Chairman of the NHRC that the NDA had appointed. It is indeed embarrassing for Dr. Singh, along with his leader for having raised an objection to the appointment of Justice J.S. Verma as Chairman of the NHRC. There could not have been, at that stage, a candidate with better credentials that Justice Verma. His dissent was motivated by political considerations.

As a Prime Minister, he wanted to appoint a tainted person as the CVC. My colleague and the Leader of Opposition, Lok Sabha Smt. Sushma Swaraj dissented. Her dissent was upheld and the appointment of the CVC was struck down.

Even though the Lokpal law gives power to the four members to appoint the fifth member, the discretion of the four members was restricted for selecting seven members of the committee. The eminent jurist included Shri Mohan Gopal, a functionary of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Smt. Swaraj is believed to have suggested that amongst the eminent jurists available, the best in the outstanding persons could be appointed. She suggested the names of the former CJI, Shri F.S. Nariman, Shri Soli Sorabjee, Shri K. Parasaran, and Shri Harish Salve. Smt. Swaraj would even have been agreeable to the names of Justice M N Venkatachaliah and Sh. K K Venugopal. The Prime Minister maintained a position that only one name could be considered that of Sh. P.P. Rao. None of the names suggested by Smt. Swaraj could be considered.

Sh. P.P. Rao is an honourable man. It is the Prime Minister’s insistence that none of the others could be considered and the government was only interested in P.P. Rao is what makes me doubt its intentions. The objective of having a Chief Justice or his nominee judge in the collegium was intended to maintain a balance. Ordinarily, in view of the divided opinion, the nominee judge was expected to come out with some outstanding name who would be acceptable by all. This did not happen.
Dr. Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister comes to an end soon. Amongst the various institutions that he has done damage to is the collegium system for making appointments to several public positions. As one of those who was actively involved in drafting of the Lokpal Law, I have started introspecting as to whether the collegium system can be so easily subverted in order to subvert the appointment of a Lokpal. The Prime Minister damaged the institution of Lokpal even prior to its appointment.

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