Ex-CJI as governor is a worrying sign

This is the best that the Kerala governor could reportedly summon in his favour

The Modi government has hardly set a good example by inducting a former Chief Justice of India as the new governor of Kerala. P. Sathasivam retired as CJI in late April. Four months down the road he is ensconced in a Raj Bhavan. This is an undesirable first. Even in the case of civil servants it is strongly felt that at least two years should pass after they retire before they become eligible for official appointments.

The loyalties of a superannuated head of the Indian judiciary have never been sought to be co-opted before by the executive. In the circumstances it becomes hard to spring to Mr Sathasivam’s defence if wagging tongues hint that the former Chief Justice was rewarded for services rendered. The case of present BJP president Amit Shah having it easy in a highly controversial murder case in Gujarat — when Justice Sathasivam was the CJI — is being spoken of. True, it was not officially known at that stage that Mr Shah would soon be made his party’s chief.

This is the best that the Kerala governor could reportedly summon in his favour. But he couldn’t have been unaware that Mr Shah was a high-profile — and controversial — general secretary of a party that was bidding for power, and was also the point-man for Narendra Modi, at the time the BJP’s Prime Minister candidate.

It is especially a pity that the former CJI’s appointment as governor should come in the midst of a debate in the country on the best way to select judges for the higher judiciary. The collegium system, in which judges appoint judges, was being questioned and sought to be replaced by an arrangement in which the executive also plays a part in selection. Following the decision to make Mr Sathasivam governor, there could be anxiety that the executive seeks a pliant judiciary.

Fali S. Nariman, the leading light of jurisprudence in the country and a man whose legal ethics are deemed sturdy, has already sounded a warning about the dilution of judicial independence if the collegium method is changed. To many, Mr Nariman’s deep worry may now appear to sound realistic. If the government has set a poor example in the Sathasivam case, it is appalling that the former CJI has accepted the offer to be governor with unseemly alacrity. The country’s legal fraternity seems to be up in arms. Some even wonder if he had solicited the position. Citing the example of Ranganath Mishra, a retired Supreme Court judge brought to the Rajya Sabha by the Congress many years ago, can’t justify the present case. That was a different era, and two wrongs cannot make a right.

( Source : dc )
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