Parliament is considering a proposal to change the process of appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts. A Constitutional Amendment Bill has been introduced in Rajya Sabha that enables the formation of a Judicial Appointments Committee (JAC), and states that the composition and functions of the JAC will be detailed in a law enacted by Parliament. The appointments will be made according to the recommendations of the JAC. This body replaces the current process of “consultation” with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and other senior judges. An ordinary Bill has also been introduced in Rajya Sabha which seeks to establish the JAC. The composition of the JAC will be the CJI, the next two judges of the Supreme Court in terms of seniority, the law minister and two eminent persons. These two eminent persons will be selected by a collegium consisting of the CJI, the prime minister and the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. In case of High Court Judges, the JAC will consult with the chief minister, the governor of the state and the Chief Justice of the High Court. The new system is widening the selection committee. It includes representatives of the executive and senior judiciary, as well as two persons who are jointly selected by the executive (PM), judiciary (CJI), and the legislature (leader of opposition). However, it may be diluting some of the safeguards in the Constitution. At a later date, the composition of the JAC can be amended by ordinary majority in Parliament. [For example, they can drop the judicial members.] This is a significantly lower bar than the current system which requires a change to the Constitution, i.e., have the support of two thirds of members of each House of Parliament, and half the state assemblies. The 120th Constitution Amendment Bill and the JAC Bill are listed for consideration and passing in Rajya Sabha today. Given that these Bills propose fundamental changes to the process of appointments to key constitutional bodies, it is important that there be a wide debate. The Rajya Sabha must refer these Bills to the Standing Committee for careful examination of various issues. I have written a piece on this issue in the Indian Express today.
There have been articles in the media on the future passage of the Women's Reservation Bill stating that the Bill will have to be ratified by state legislatures before it is signed into law by the President. Our analysis indicates that ratification by state legislatures is not required. We state the reasons below: This Bill amends the Constitution. It (a) amends Article 239AA, Article 331, and Article 333, and (b) inserts Article 330A, Article 332A, and Article 334A. In doing so the Bill:
- Seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies;
- One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies;
- Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies.
Article 368 regulates the procedure for amending the Constitution. It states that the ratification of the state legislatures to a constitutional amendment is required in the following cases: a. If there is a change in the provisions regarding elections to the post of the President of India. b. If there is a change in the extent of the executive power of the centre or the state governments. c. If there is any change in the provisions regarding the Union judiciary or the High Courts. d. If the distribution of legislative powers between the centre and the states is affected. e. If any of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule is affected. f. If the representation of the states in the Rajya Sabha is changed. g. Lastly, if Article 368 itself is amended. None of these provisions are attracted in the case of the Women's Reservation Bill. The Parliament recently extended the reservation of seats for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies by another ten years. Article 334 was amended to state that such reservation "will cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution." The 109th Amendment Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and did not require the ratification of the states before being signed into law by the President. It follows that if Bills amending provisions for reserving seats for SCs and STs don't need ratification by state legislatures, a bill reserving seats for women does not need ratification either. Thus Article 368 very clearly lays down situations in which state legislatures have to ratify a piece of legislation before it can receive the assent of the President.