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Lodha bids farewell, answers (nearly) all media questions (but not on Sathasivam)

In apparent disapproval of his predecessor P Sathasivam accepting the Kerala governor’s post, Chief Justice of India RM Lodha Friday said that no CJI or Supreme Court or high court judge should accept any government position or occupy a constitutional office at least for some time after retiring.

In an interaction with media persons on his last working day, he advocated a two-year cooling-off period.

“I hold the view that the Supreme Court chief justice and judges, the high court chief justice and judges should not, post retirement, accept a constitutional position or positions connected with the government. Should it happen, it should be after a cooling off period of two years,” the CJI said.

As there are certain statutes requiring an institution or a tribunal to be headed by the retired chief justice of India, apex court judge or high court chief justice, Chief Justice Lodha said that one option was to amend these statutory provisions paving the way for alternatives or force a wait of two years.

“If you want to stop it (judges occupying statutory bodies like NHRC or the tribunals), then amend these statutory provisions,” he said.

“At least for some time a judge is not given a constitutional position,” he said and repeatedly clarified that he was not making a comment on any individual’s case in response to questions about his view on his predecessor becoming the Kerala governor.

Categorically rejecting the possibility of his becoming the first Lokpal or occupying any government position, Chief Justice Lodha said: “You will not see me in any government position.”

He regretted that his suggestion that the Supreme Court should function all 365 days a year was not taken in the right perspective by the members of the bar and an “opportunity which could have helped in streamlining the functioning of the higher judiciary has been lost”.

He said that he did not mean all those manning top judiciary and other support staff will have to work 365 days a year, noting all those in emergency services - doctors, paramedic staff, engineers and others - were not working round the year without a break.

Defending the collegium system of judges’ appointment, he said that in his view if an appointment of an apex or a high court judge is made by an institution or a body where people other than the judicial persons are involved in the selection, it may affect the quality of judicial appointments.

“Judges are best equipped to adjudge the suitability of a person to be a judge of the high court or the Supreme Court. If a lawyer from the bar has to be picked up to be a judge, then judges before whom he practices know his performance, knowledge, advocacy, skill and other facets.

“There can’t be a better judge than the judge itself to adjudge the suitability of a person to be on the bench,” he said, adding that people don’t know “what all exercises that go into the appointment of judges”.

Cautioning that merit could not be compromised in judicial appointments, Chief Justice Lodha said: “I don’t agree with the expression reservation for SC/ST or OBCs but I am working for diversifying the judicial appointments. There could be no compromise on merit.”

“The diversity in Britain is better than us but even they feel that they have not achieved the diversity they wanted,” he said.

On the impact of the coal block cancellation verdict, he said: “There are perceptions and perceptions (on the judicial pronouncements). We have taken oath to uphold the constitution and law.” He said they take decisions in black and white and don’t discuss them later on their implications.

On the perception that the judiciary had encroached upon the domain of the executive, Chief Justice Lodha said: “You have to understand that India has grown as a strong democracy. For a strong democracy it is good that you have strong executive, strong legislature and a strong judiciary. Friction (between three organs) is good.”

Since there is no clear demarcation of the roles of the three organs of the State, it may happen that in certain situations it may appear that one organ is encroaching on the sphere of other,” he said.

“So long you follow the parameters (of jurisdiction) laid under the constitution there should be no problem,” he said.

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