New Delhi: Indian citizens will soon be able to complain against judges to a panel the government has proposed and plans to vest with punitive powers, the country’s law minister said on Monday.
The proposed National Judicial Council, or NJC, would comprise five judges including the Chief Justice of India, and be the first formal body to probe allegations of corruption and misconduct among judges. “Till now there was no avenue available to the common man for filing complaints against corruption and misconduct of judges. The efficiency of the judiciary’s in-house procedure was not known. We have now decided to empower citizens by allowing them to file complaints against erring judges,” said law minister H.R. Bhardwaj.
The government wants to deal with judicial conduct and discipline “in totality and not on an ad-hoc basis by looking at isolated cases,” he said. While democratic institutions such as Parliament and the press had a privileges committee and the Press Council, respectively, to oversee conduct at these institutions, “the judiciary had so far failed to come up with a mechanism to check the conduct of its members.”
“The Parliament in an exemplary action expelled 10 MPs found guilty of accepting cash for asking questions. It was done as a collective will of the House to send out a stern signal. How often has the judiciary acted to rectify the faults within?” Bhardwaj asked.
The proposed NJC forms a part of a Judges Inquiry Bill, which is likely to be discussed during Parliament’s monsoon session. If the Bill becomes law, a five-member judges committee consisting of the Chief Justice of India, two Supreme Court judges, and two high court chief justices would be vested with powers to inquire into allegations against judges of the higher judiciary.
“If the allegations are proved, the NJC would have the power to impose minor measures in case of a small misbehaviour or misuse of power. But if the case is serious and requires drastic action, the council has been empowered to recommend the removal of the judge by forwarding the case to the Parliament,” Bhardwaj said.
A day after the Hindustan Times reported on Sunday that the Central Vigilance Commission had forwarded a complaint containing allegations of corruption and misconduct against former chief justice of India Yogesh Kumar Sabharwal, the law minister said increasing complaints were not good for the judiciary’s image.
Bhardwaj, however, declined to comment on allegations against former justice Sabharwal, saying “such issues should not be discussed in public at a time when the department is seized of the matter”. “By and large the judiciary still enjoys the confidence of the people in comparison to the other institutions, and I feel it is for the judges to see that there is no institutional breakdown. Transparency in its functioning is the need of the hour,” he said.