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2016: Hostile interface between judiciary and government


The year 2016 has been marked by the hostile interface between the judiciary and the government like never before over delay in judicial appointments.

The genesis of this often overt hostility between the two constitutional branches of governance in the world’s largest democracy started towards the fag end of 2015 with the Supreme Court striking down the NDA government’s NJAC laws.

Controversies refused to die down through out the year and reached its zenith with rumours abound that the government is moving to put a spoke in the well-oiled convention of making the seniormost Supreme Court judge, Justice J.S. Khehar, who led the NJAC Constitution Bench, the next Chief Justice of India.

The notification of appointment of Justice Khehar was issued only days before January 3 despite the fact that Chief Justice Thakur had sent his formal proposal recommending Justice Khehar as his successor early in December.

The year started on a confident note for the judiciary with Chief Justice Thakur declaring it to be the ‘Year of Appointments’, thus making his intention clear to fill up the hundreds of judicial vacancies kept on freeze owing to the NJAC litigation in the Supreme Court during the large part of 2015.

But in April, the world saw an unprecedented sight when an emotional Chief Justice Thakur, during a public function attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accused the government of stalling judicial appointments.

This was the first of the several abrasive and very public encounters the judiciary and the government would have inside and outside the courtroom.

While Chief Justice accused the government of trying to bring the courts to a “grinding halt”, the government hit back in court that the judiciary itself was to blame for the delay in appointment of high court judges. Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi told Chief Justice Thakur that High Courts rarely initiate the process for fresh appointments of judges on time and judicial posts remain vacant for years.

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