The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance will once again try to remove the “undemocratic” collegium system of appointing judges in the higher judiciary when it comes back to power, former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha said on Sunday, PTI reported.

“The collegium system has many flaws,” claimed Kushwaha, who heads the Rashtriya Lok Morcha. “It is undemocratic. It has shut the doors of judgeship in the higher judiciary on Dalits, OBCs [Other Backward Classes] and even the poor among the upper castes.”

Under the collegium system, the five most senior 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.

Kushwaha is the National Democratic Alliance’s candidate in Bihar’s Karakat Lok Sabha constituency. He made the comments during an election rally in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

“If we look at the composition of the bench in the Supreme Court and the high courts, it is dominated by members of a few hundred families,” he said. “A reason why the anomalous system has been criticised by no less than the current president and her predecessor.”

In recent years, the BJP government at the Centre has been selectively appointing judges recommended for elevation to the bench by the Supreme Court collegium, which has allowed the Union government to exercise a veto over judicial appointments.

On Sunday, Kushwaha also questioned why Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav did not oppose the collegium system, PTI reported.

“We cannot expect a principled stand on such issues from someone who keeps oscillating between jail and bail,” Kushwaha said. “It was the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] that dared to bite the bullet on the thorny issue of collegium system. And it is the NDA which will continue to make efforts in this direction.”

The executive and the judiciary have been in a tug-of-war regarding appointments to higher judiciary in recent years. Former Law Minister Kiren Rijiju and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar have repeatedly criticised the collegium system of appointing judges, contending that it is opaque.

In 2014, the BJP-led government had introduced the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act with the objective of making appointments to the Supreme Court and High Courts “more broad-based, transparent, accountable and bringing objectivity in the system”.

The National Judicial Appointments Commission Act had proposed to make judicial appointments through a body consisting of the chief justice, two senior Supreme Court judges, the Union law minister and two other eminent persons nominated by the chief justice, the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the Act, ruling that it was unconstitutional.

In December 2022, Rijiju, who was the law minister at the time, told Parliament that there the Centre had no plans to reintroduce the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act.

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