Opposition parties on Monday alleged that the Centre was trying to “capture” the judiciary after Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju wrote to Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, suggesting to include a government nominee in the process of making appointments to the Supreme Court and High Courts.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said that the development is an “orchestrated confrontation” with the judiciary to intimidate it.

“The Collegium needs reform,” Ramesh said. “But what this government wants is complete subservience – It’s remedy is a poison pill for the judiciary.”

Media reports on Monday said that Rijiju, in his letter to the chief justice, had underlined the government as an important stakeholder in the process of appointment of judges in the Supreme Court and High Courts.

The law minister also suggested forming a Search-cum-Evaluation Committee, or SEC, which will be “entrusted to prepare a panel of eligible candidates from which the respective collegiums will make recommendations”, according to the Hindustan Times.

Besides the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal on Monday also criticised Rijiju’s suggestions saying they were shocking.

“This is going to grossly undermine the very idea of independence of the judiciary and shall unsettle the fine balance as envisaged through the Constitution,” Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Kumar Jha said, according to The Indian Express. “Is the government unable to resist the temptation of having a ‘committed Judiciary’?”

Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that the suggestions by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government are “extremely dangerous”.

“There should be absolutely no government interference in judicial appointments,” he said.

Rijiju, however, defended the government’s demand, saying that his letter was in line with the observations and directions of the Supreme Court.

Rijiju’s letter

In his letter, Rijiju also said that an updated Memorandum of Procedure on the appointment of judges was still “pending finalisation” and gave suggestions on how the process could be streamlined.

The law minister noted that a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, while striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act in 2014, had called for restructuring the Memorandum of Procedure.

The National Judicial Appointments Commission had been introduced by the Narendra Modi government soon after coming to power in 2014 to replace the collegium system. The government had proposed to make judicial appointments through a body comprising of the chief justice, two senior Supreme Court judges, the law minister and two other eminent persons nominated by the chief justice, the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition.

Under the collegium system, senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, decide on the appointments and transfers of judges to the top court and the High Courts.

The Memorandum of Procedure is a document framed by the government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India, which lays down the procedure for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and various High Courts. It was first issued in November 1947 and has been updated since.

Centre vs Supreme Court

In recent months, Rijiju has repeatedly criticised the existing collegium system of appointments. On November 26, he had told the news channel Times Now that the collegium system was not in consonance with the Constitution.

The minister added that the collegium cannot expect the government to simply accept all the recommendations it makes.

On January 11, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar also said that the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act was a “scenario perhaps unparalleled in the democratic history of the world”.

He said that no institution can wield power or authority to neutralise the mandate of people

On December 8, the Supreme Court had told the Centre that the collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary is the law of the land and must be adhered to. The court said that the government should not force it to “take a judicial decision in this regard”.