Union law minister Kiren Rijiju. PTI Photo
Union law minister Kiren Rijiju is deeply upset that the Supreme Court collegium has put portions of reports of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) on lawyers who are being considered for judgeship of high courts in public domain. It is a "matter of grave concern" as intelligence agency officials work in a secret manner for the nation, and they would "think twice" in future if their reports are made public, the minister has reasoned. It will have an implication, he fears, and has promised that he will respond to it at an appropriate time.
It is true that the SC collegium had indeed referred to "adverse comments" of the IB and the RAW about three lawyers it had recommended as judges in Mumbai, Madras and Delhi high courts. It, however, trashed the objections citing their constitutional rights to speech, expression and sexual orientation; the criteria will continue to be their competence, merit and integrity, the collegium had reiterated.
There is no gainsaying that officials of IB and RAW work in a secretive manner, and that they work for the nation. They operate within the country and outside, and often under extremely dangerous situations. Those who receive reports from such persons have the responsibility to ensure that they reach not one undeserving hand, for it will undermine the purpose for which such officials stake their lives.
The Union law minister must, however, clarify how making public portions of reports IB and RAW which contained publicly available information is a matter of great concern to him and the government and what is so secretive about collecting such information. It cannot be that the Supreme Court should work only with sealed envelopes, a practice which this government has specialised in and to which the court has made its objections known. And if the minister is concerned that the officials will think twice before putting up such reports, it must be seen as a welcome gesture, now that the court has clarified that it will not subscribe to government agencies’ prescription and perception about civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.
It appears that Mr Rijiju has taken a leaf of national security out of the NDA government’s rule book to take on the Supreme Court. The government had tried the same ruse in many cases, including Rafale and Pegasus. In the latter, the apex court had made it plain that "national security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from by virtue of its mere mentioning" and, that "mere invocation of national security by the state does not render the court a mute spectator". It will serve the cause of democracy if Mr Rijiju and the bureaucracy think twice before attempting to contravene the fundamental rights of the citizens while furthering their agenda.
It is true that the government has a problem with the collegium system of appointments, which has no constitutional sanction. But that offers Mr Rijiju, or for that matter people linked to the ruling dispensation, no right to make disparaging comments on the apex court and the collegium. The government and its spokesmen must be open about their agenda, engage the judiciary in a transparent manner and get their grievances addressed. Shadow boxing has no place in a constitutional democracy.