While minister of state for home Nityanand Rai tabled the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Union home minister Amit Shah said amendments had been made keeping in mind the effectiveness of the bill. “If we say that we will appoint a Supreme Court judge, if a retired Chief Justice is not available, then which self-respecting judge will come forward? It has been decided by the courts that as far as judicial work is concerned, the CJI is first among equals. The CJI only gets additional administrative rights to run the Supreme Court or the high courts. The amendment should be seen that way," said Shah.
The bill raised eyebrows among Opposition members, who questioned the efficacy of the amendments, which have reduced the tenure of chairpersons of national and state human rights bodies from five years to three years. Additionally, the bill says that a former Supreme Court judge can also become the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairperson. Earlier, only a former CJI could head the body. Likewise, the amendment also paves the way for a former high court judge to chair a state human rights commission, as opposed to the earlier requirement of a high court chief justice for the post.
Senior Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’ Brien alleged that the bill was moved from the Lok Sabha to the Rajya Sabha on Friday at 5pm, leaving no time for members of the Upper House to go through the amendments before it was taken up for discussion. However, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said that the Opposition had not bothered to go through the amendments.
“If there is a chief justice who is available, will he be overlooked in favour of a hand-picked judge? Will it lead to a pick and choose system in both the central and state levels? There needs to be greater clarity on the matter," said Congress MP Vivek Tankha.
The Samajwadi Party (SP), too, raised objections and questioned the need for the amendments. “What is the rationale behind reducing the term of the chairperson from five to three years? Also, the proposal of appointment of chairperson will only give way to favouritism. The home minister needs to offer clarity on these issues," said senior SP MP Ramgopal Yadav.