The Big Picture- SC Collegium: Demand for Transparency
Even as the government and the Supreme Court is involved in intense and sometimes unpleasant engagements on what should be the nature of Memorandum of Procedure for appointments and transfer of judges, internal problems have cropped up within the Supreme Court collegium. Justice J. Chelameswar, one of the members of the collegium has raised several questions on its functioning. In a letter to the Chief Justice of India, he has raised the issue of lack of transparency. He has also refused to attend any of the collegium meetings henceforth and is demanding that the recommendations of other four judges to be sent to him through circulation. He has recorded that so far there have been no records of the meetings of collegium and no minutes have been maintained of these meetings.
It has brought the focus again on the manner in which the judiciary functions on its administrative side. Mr. Chelameswar’s boycott is undoubtedly based on principle. He has highlighted that transparency is a vital factor in constitutional governance and proceedings of the Supreme Court in terms of appointments and transfers is completely opaque. Proceedings of the collegium are not recorded. There are no records on why a judge is selected or rejected. He has exposed the working of the Supreme Court. Previously, these issues were raised but this is the first time a member of the collegium has raised it publicly.
There is a need for clearer criteria for selection of judges, there has to be a method for evaluating various candidates based on those criteria and also, there is a requirement of some transparency in the whole process of the appointment at least to the extent that the names of the proposed candidates are put up on a public website. Public can also contribute in sending whatever information they have about the judges. What is being said by the members of the collegium about appointments should be recorded and made known under RTI.
The judiciary needs to handle this matter in a much more responsible manner. Whether the concerns raised by Justice J. Chelameshwar will be helpful in strengthening the institution or not cannot be said. His position is consistent with his dissent, in which he has spoken clearly on the ills of the system. If there is transparency, there are drawbacks as well attached to it.
For example: There is transparency and a judge gets further elevated to the Supreme Court but then if one or two judges in the collegium have something against that judge being considered and if they put this in writing, this will pose difficulty for the candidate to work even in his/her present position. Therefore, even if minutes are to be maintained, there should be a procedure that they don’t come to public knowledge immediately. They should be kept where they can be looked up after a period of 5-6 years down the line. This kind of limited transparency where reasons are compulsorily recorded and don’t bring unwarranted consequences with them is something that is required.
The judiciary showed the way forward by asking the Centre to prepare a revised memorandum. It should also end the impasse by taking an early call on firming up the procedure. Raising the issue of transparency in a non-transparent manner is not the right thing. Institutional reforms need public debate and their involvement. It cannot be left to the institution itself. There is no harm in truth being known.