Cries of shame

No more post-retirement nominations for judges

Cries of shame

THE Chief Justice of India is ranked sixth in the warrant of precedence and he administers the oath of office to the President of India. The recent fall in prestige of a previous occupant of this high office has been singularly steep: from the majestic court room no. 1 to seat no. 104 in the sixth row of the Rajya Sabha, which erupted on Thursday in unprecedented cries of shame. A presidential nominee in the Rajya Sabha, be it Sachin Tendulkar or Raja Ramanna, normally evokes awe, and even admiration. Their entry into Parliament is a moment of celebration. But unfortunately, the oath-taking of former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi turned into an occasion for derision, with the Opposition walking out, alleging quid pro quo. The son of a former Congress Chief Minister, Gogoi cannot be a stranger to political barbs and bouquets, but this nomination has only brought disrepute to the judiciary and the legislature.

A judge’s reputation rests forever on his judgments and not in retirement sinecures. The late Arun Jaitley, while speaking in the very same Rajya Sabha as its Leader of Opposition, presciently pointed towards a grave danger: ‘The desire of a post-retirement job influences pre-retirement judgments. It is a threat to the independence of judiciary.’ Jaitley’s old concern, and Gogoi’s new controversy, ought to trigger a movement to institutionalise a permanent bar against post-retirement jobs for judges and those holding constitutional positions to avoid the ugly sight of a former Chief Election Commissioner shouting slogans or a former Comptroller and Auditor General of India rushing into the well of the House.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has put up a spirited defence against allegations by the Congress of the government compromising the judiciary’s integrity by quoting copious examples of Congress’s misdemeanours. But that is no justification because it is a sad fact that the Congress had dragged pliable constitutional functionaries through all possible legal loopholes. Gogoi’s own defence is weaker still. He is blaming the controversy on some ‘lobby’ of lawyers whom he had every opportunity to expose while he presided over the judiciary. This is a new low in our lowly public life.

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