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Govt and Supreme Court face-off: CJI Dattu says won’t join panel

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Govt and Supreme Court face-off: CJI Dattu says won’t join panel

Written by Maneesh Chhibber , Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Updated: April 28, 2015 2:22 pm

Indian Express

A deadlock on the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) could lead to a Constitutional crisis after it emerged on Monday that Chief Justice of India H L Dattu had informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he would not join the panel until the Supreme Court decided on the validity of the new system to appoint judges.

Unless Justice Dattu changes his mind, or the five-judge Supreme Court bench hearing pleas against NJAC directs him to do so, at least 12 additional judges of various high courts, whose tenures would end during the pendency of this case, will be out of a job within the next two months.

The other option is for the Supreme Court to pass an order that automatically extends their tenures.

Additional judges are appointed for two-year terms, and their terms are usually extended before expiry of the previous stint.

 

The face-off between the CJI and the NDA government also rules out the possibility of a speedy appointment of regular chief justices to seven of the 24 high courts in the country, including Gujarat, Kerala, Punjab and Haryana, Gauhati, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Sikkim, all of which have acting chief justices.

Besides, the Chief Justice of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Court Justice Kalyan Jyoti Sengupta is due to retire on May 6.

The contents of Justice Dattu’s letter to Modi, dated April 25, was revealed in Supreme Court by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who appealed to the bench to direct the CJI to attend a proposed meeting with PM Modi and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.

Under the NJAC Act, notified on April 13, the three of them have to select the “two eminent persons” who will join the six-member commission along with the CJI, the Law Minister and two senior judges of the apex court.

Justice Dattu’s letter was in response to an invitation from the Prime Minster to attend a proposed selection meeting.

“In response to the invitation from your office to attend (the) meeting to select two eminent persons, I have to say that it is neither appropriate nor desirable for me to attend the meeting or (be) part of National Judicial Appointments Commission till the Supreme Court decides its validity,” Justice Dattu wrote.

Official sources told The Indian Express that the earlier view within the government was that even if the CJI decides to stay away from the meeting, the process could carry on. Now, it doesn’t appear keen to follow this path, they added.

During the hearing on Monday, Rohatgi regretted the impasse, saying it has led to a “Constitutional crisis” since the bench had neither stayed the new law, nor restrained the government from making the NJAC functional.

Responding to the AG, Justice J S Khehar, who is heading the five-judge bench, said appropriate orders would be passed as and when required. The hearing will resume Tuesday.

When contacted, Kharge told The Indian Express that he had not received any official intimation of the selection meeting with the PM and CJI. “Until I get an authentic notice from the Prime Minister’s Office, how can I say whether I will participate or not? We will also have to see what the repercussions are of the CJI not participating,” he said.

(With inputs from Manoj C G)