In response to a question in the Rajya Sabha on whether some former judges of the Supreme Court are part of “anti-India gang”, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju on Thursday evaded a direct answer in the English version of his response and said “ji nahi” – no – in the Hindi version.

Notably, Rijiju himself had made the accusation while addressing a conclave organised by the India Today news channel last month.

“A few retired judges...few of those activists who are part of the anti-India gang, these people are trying to make Indian judiciary play the role of an Opposition party,” the law minister had said. He had also warned that those working against the country will have to pay a price.

The Opposition had criticised his remarks, saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party leader was “talking like an outlaw”.

Over 300 lawyers from the Supreme Court and the High Courts in an open letter on March 29 demanded that the minister should withdraw these comments. “By threatening retired judges, the law minister is clearly sending a message to every citizen, that no voice of dissent will be spared,” they said.

On Thursday, Samajwadi Party’s Rajya Sabha member Javed Ali Khan and Janata Dal (United)’s Ram Nath Thakur questioned what was Rijiju’s source of information when he made the claim that judges were part of the “anti-India gang”. They also questioned whether the government has informed the chief justice of India and the Union home ministry about this in view of national security.

In his response, Rijiju said: “From time to time, complaints are received in the Department of Justice [in the Law Ministry] against sitting as well as retired judges of Supreme Court and High Courts. Department of Justice is concerned only with the appointment and service conditions of the sitting judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.”

Complaints about the retired judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts are not handled by the Department of Justice, Rijiju added.