Amid frequent run-ins between the government and the judiciary, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju on Friday pitched for fraternal ties between the two pillars of democracy, saying they are like brothers and should not fight each other.
He said the central government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has never undermined the authority of the judiciary and will always ensure its independence remains untouched and is promoted.
"We are offspring of the same parent.. hum bhai-bhai hain. Aapas me ladna-jhagadna theek nahi hai. Hum sab milkar kaam karenge aur desh ko mazboot banaenge. (We are brothers. It is not right to fight with each other. We will work together to strengthen the nation)," he said speaking at an event held on the Supreme Court lawns on the eve of Constitution Day.
However, differences of opinion over the collegium system under which the judges appoint judges, showed through the speeches made by Rijiju at a separate event and Chief Justice of India Justice D Y Chandrachud and top Bar body Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) chief Vikas Singh at the Constitution Day function.
Speaking at the Times Now Summit, Rijiju launched a fresh attack on the mechanism to appoint Supreme Court and high court judges, saying the collegium system is 'alien' to the Constitution.
The Supreme Court in its wisdom, through a court ruling, created collegium, he said noting that before 1991 all judges were appointed by the government.
The minister said the Constitution of India is a 'religious document' for everyone, especially the government, and 'anything which is alien to the Constitution merely because of the decision taken by the courts or some judges, how do you expect that the decision will be backed by the country'.
"You tell me under which provision the collegium system has been prescribed?" he asked.
At the same time, he said the government will 'very well respect' the collegium system until or unless it is replaced by a better mechanism.
In his address at the Constitution Day event, SCBA president Vikas Singh, was the first to speak about the 'apparent conflict' between the two pillars of democracy as demonstrated in the recommendations of the Supreme Court collegium not been honoured by the government.
While the senior lawyer acknowledged that the present collegium system has to be made 'more credible' until a better system is put in place, he said, the Centre 'cannot be seen violating the rule of the law' with respect to the appointment of judges.
In his address to the gathering at the Constitution Day celebrations, CJI Chandrachud said no institution in a constitutional democracy, including the collegium, is perfect and the solution lay in working within the existing system.
Having spoken about judges being faithful soldiers who implement the Constitution, he touched upon the deeply divisive collegium issue.
"Finally, criticism about the collegium. I thought I will reserve the best for the last. No institution in a constitutional democracy is perfect. But we work within the existing framework of the Constitution as it is interpreted and given to us. All the judges of the collegium including me, we are faithful soldiers who implement the Constitution. When we talk of imperfections, our solution is to work our way within the existing system."
"The president (of SCBA) raised a query about good people. Getting good people to enter the judiciary, getting good lawyers to enter the judiciary is not just the function about reforming the collegium. Getting to be judges is not a function of how much salary you give judges. However high you pay judges, it'll be a fraction of what a successful lawyer makes at the end of one day," the CJI said, adding people become judges for a sense of commitment to public services.
In his address at the SCBA event, Rijiju noted India is a thriving democracy, and to make an institution successful, it must be ensured that people in the system are given due credit and recognition.
"If leader becomes weak, country becomes weak. If CJI is made weak and vulnerable, it is also amounting to weakening of Supreme Court itself. If Supreme Court becomes weak, it amounts to weakening Indian judiciary," he said.
The minister added instability weakens a country and the prime minister is the elected leader of the country.
"The country's image is enhanced when he is respected," he said.
In his speech, SCBA president Singh said the Centre cannot 'pick and choose' when the top court collegium recommends names for appointment as judges and urged the law minister to ensure there is no 'negation' of its recommendations.
Claiming it was 'unfortunate' that the government is disobeying the rule of law by not accepting the recommendations that are reiterated, he asserted there should be some uniformity in honouring them.
"There is an apparent conflict which is quite obvious everywhere that names are being recommended and not being appointed. This according to me is a complete negation of rule of law. I beseech the law minister to please ensure that this negation does not happen anymore," Singh said.
At the same time, Singh said, a system has to be introduced to ensure the 'best' are chosen as judges in a transparent and fair manner.
"I am not so charitable to say that this system is working the way it was originally conceived to work. Initially, I had no problem with the collegium system but you have to make it more credible. If government is not ready to bring a law to make the system more credible, the judges have to bring in a system in-house which assures to the nation and the legal community that best are being picked in manner which justifies that entire process is transparent and fair," he said.
But, until a better system is put in place, 'they (government) have to obey the law', he said.
Since 2015, November 26 is observed as Constitution Day to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly in 1949. Earlier, the day was observed as Law Day.