During the 83rd Conference of All India Presiding Officers, Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankhar, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot made scathing remarks on the alleged interference of the judiciary in the functioning of Parliament and asked it to operate within constitutional limits.
Criticising the well-established principle of the basic structure of the Constitution that was propounded by the Supreme Court 49 years ago, the Vice President went to the extent of saying that judicial review of decisions made by the legislature cannot be allowed.
He further spoke of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) and how the judiciary "ran it down." Similar statements were made by Birla and Gehlot.
These statements only go to show that the legislature is trying to control the judiciary, especially the process of appointments, by setting aside all the contradictions and differences within it.
Even while proposing the NJAC, the legislature had shown unexpected unity, and without proper debate, made a law that was interfering with the autonomy of the judiciary.
The legislature would do well to remember that although our constitution accepts the principle of separation of powers, it also contains provisions for judicial review of legislative decisions.
What Does the Constitution Say?
Article 13 empowers the Supreme Court and the high courts to interpret pre-constitutional laws and decide whether such laws conform to the values and principles of the present Constitution.
It also says that if the laws are partially or wholly inconsistent with the existing legal framework, they shall be deemed ineffective unless they are amended.
Similarly, laws that have been enacted after the Constitution came into force have to prove their compatibility, too. In case they are in conflict with the legal framework, they can be deemed void.
Considering this, to say that the law made by the legislature cannot be judicially reviewed is not only against the intention of the Constitution but also against its provisions.
Instead of questioning judicial autonomy, the legislature should perhaps use its powers to enact constitutional laws.
As far as challenging the principle of the basic structure of the Constitution is concerned, it should be understood that its acceptance in the last five decades has only strengthened the Constitution and its values.
There have been many such occasions when constitutional values have been protected on the basis of this principle.
Thus, in my view, the remarks made by the Vice President, Lok Sabha Speaker, and Rajasthan CM on the judiciary are completely inappropriate and condemnable.
(This piece has been translated from Hindi and edited for clarity and length.)
(Justice Govind Mathur is a former Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)