In a big jolt to the Narendra Modi’s central government, the Supreme Court on Friday struck down the constitution’s 99th amendment and declared the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act unconstitutional and void.
The court thus restored the Collegium System for appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.
In a “collective order”, the five-member constitution bench, comprising Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, said that the constitution’s 99th Amendment and the NJAC Act were unconstitutional and void.
The constitution amendment and NJAC Act were brought to replace the 1993 Collegium System for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the high courts.
The court said the system of “appointment of judges to the SC, chief justices and judges of the high courts and the transfer of chief justices and judges of the high courts that existed prior to the amendment begins to be operative”.
The court sought suggestions from the bar for improved functioning of the Collegium System.
Hearing for the same will take place on November 3.
Under NJAC, notified in April, judges were to be chosen by the NJAC, which comprised a team of six members that included the Chief Justice of India, the two most senior judges of the Supreme Court, two eminent persons, and the union law minister.
The NJAC was passed in Parliament and notified by the government even as the Constitution bench was hearing petitions challenging it.
A few days after the appointments panel was put in place, the Chief Justice of India, HL Dattu, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that he would not be a part of it until the Supreme Court decides on its validity.
Petitions were filed by a Supreme Court advocates’ group, among others, argued that the new law was unconstitutional and demolished the independence of the judiciary by giving the government a big role in the selection of judges.
The constitutional bench had reserved its judgement on July 15 after a marathon hearing for 31 days.
The central government had defended the new system, saying the collegium system where judges appointed judges was not free from defects.
During arguments before the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, the central government’s top lawyer, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, had said it was a myth that judges alone could decide on who was the best person to be a judge.