Law Minister on selection of cronies as judges

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New Delhi, Mar 18 (UNI) The government has acknowledged criticism of a tendency to appoint ''cronies and relatives'' to India's higher judiciary but has no proposal to change the system.

This was indicated in a written reply in Rajya Sabha by Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj to Shiromani Akali Dal Member from Punjab Varinder Singh Bajwa yesterday.

Bajwa asked if the government took note of criticism that selection to higher judiciary by the Supreme Court collegium ''is fraught with many pitfalls'' as sitting judges tend to select ''cronies and relatives'' for appointments.

''Yes. Sir,'' Law Minister Bhardwaj replied. ''There has been some criticism regarding the process of appointment of High Court and Supreme Court judges.'' Bajwa had attributed the criticism to legal experts, including a former law minister he did not name, and demanded if and when the government would revise the selection procedure.

But Bhardwaj said the present selection process had been put in place after an apex court judgement of October 1993 and an advisory opinion of October 1998.

Bhardwaj made it clear that the government has no plans for now to change things.

''There is no proposal at present before the government to bring about any change in the present system of appointment of judges in the Supreme Court and the High Courts.'' Replying to Bharatiya Janata Party Member from Madhya Pradesh Pyarelal Khandelwal, Bhardwaj indicated that political affiliation or leanings were no bar to being appointed a judge.

He said data on recommendees-- competence, judicial potential, temperament, integrity, politicial affiliations or leanings-- is made available to the Chief Justice of India and the Collegium to decide.

Asked if the government intended to make the system transparent, Bhardwaj said it has ''no proposal at present to bring about any change.'' Another BJP Member, Dr Gyan Prakash Pilania from Rajasthan, asked the Law Minister to explain the prevalence of corruption in the Indian judicial system.

Bhardwaj indicated the government had made no official or unofficial survey ''but the complaints regarding corruption in judiciary are dealt with by their peers.'' He said complaints against Supreme Court or High Court judges were dealt with under an ''in-house'' procedure while those against members of the lower judiciary were taken cognizance of by the respective High Courts.

He said the government introduced a Judges (Inquiry) Bill 2006 in the Lok Sabha to devise a suitable legislative framework to empower a judicial forum to deal with complaints against members of the higher judiciary.

Indian National Congress Member Vijay J Darda from Maharashtra and Nominated Member Shobhana Bhartia asked if the government knew that delay in giving justice was ''fraught with the risk of promoting the lynch mob phenomenon.'' Bhardwaj admitted that the government ''is conscious of the huge backlog of cases in courts'' and cited computerisation of courts and plans to send mobile courts to villages to deliver ''speedy, affordable and substantive justice to the poor.'' UNI MJ RP KN1931

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