State governments are upset over the proposed unified selection process for the appointment of judges in the lower judiciary.
While the Centre and the Supreme Court continue the standoff on appointment of judges to higher judiciary, they are out to fix the lower cadre leaving many states fuming.
The apex court is hearing a public interest litigation case that it took up suo moto (by itself) to centralise appointments to the subordinate judiciary in India. Managing lower judiciary is a state subject and high courts appoint judges to lower courts in their respective states.
Chief justice J.S. Khehar took up the case suo moto after the union law secretary mooted the idea of a central exam for district court judges, and wrote to the registrar of the Supreme Court about it.
“We assure you that we will not tamper with the federal structure,” Khehar said as a lawyer appearing for the Calcutta High Court said that the court’s intervention would violate state’s rights and insisted that the move is only to ensure there are no vacancies.
Many see the move as a backdoor introduction of All India Judicial Service (AIJS), a national entrance modelled on the Union Public Service Commission. Various versions of AIJS have been debated for at least three decades now, but the idea hasn’t taken off as it would require a constitutional amendment.
“Creation of AIJS will help strengthen the federal governance by not only attracting some of the best talents in the country, but also by bringing the state judicial officers from other parts of the country having different cultural and linguistic background,” Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said in March at a ministerial consultation on the issue.
Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Uttarakhand also expressed reservations to adopting a unified selection process.
“A lot of states have (a) fear that this will take away their rights, but since they also have many vacancies, they don’t have any standing to oppose this course correction,” a law officer for one of the states said on condition of anonymity.
All India Trinamool Congress parliamentarian Kalyan Banerjee said that a centralised exam would “effectively ensure that everything is decided by Delhi”. He also pointed out that while the Calcutta High Court has a sanctioned strength of 72 judges, it currently has only 29.
“But if I point out whose fault that is, I will be hauled up for contempt,” he told the court.
However, the court said on Friday that the central selection process will not amount to AIJS. “We will pass orders in any case. If there are genuine concerns, we’ll take into account but you have to get it out of your heads that this is the same as AIJS,” the court told lawyers representing various states.
The court has circulated a “concept note” drafted by senior advocate Arvind Datar on the issue and given the state governments and high courts two weeks to respond. The court is likely to hear grievances of states for a full day on 22 August. Given the chief justice is due to retire a week after that, the case is likely to be decided on that day.