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As PM talked about nepotism in institutions beyond political parties, here is why Judiciary is one institution awaiting independence from this malaise

PM Modi emphasized the importance of creating strict intolerance towards nepotism and creating awareness in every institution so that they can be saved.

On August 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the problem of nepotism in his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. Speaking about nepotism is not just limited to politics, PM Modi mentioned sports as one of the institutions that promote nepotism. Though he did not mention nepotism in Judiciary and mentioned the deep-rooted problem of nepotism in all institutions, it is essential to talk about the recruitments in the Judiciary laced with nepotism and this could be one of the institutions that the Prime Minister was hinting at.

PM talked about nepotism and its ill effects on India’s progress

During his address on Independence Day, PM Modi said when he talks about nepotism, people often think that he is talking about the political field, which is not true. He said, “Unfortunately, that evil in the political field has nurtured nepotism in every institution of India. Nepotism is engulfing many of our institutions. Because of this, the talent of my country suffers. The strength of my country suffers. Those who have the possibility of opportunity lose it because of nepotism. This also becomes the reason for corruption, so that he does not have any relatives to support them to get a job, they prefer to buy their space in the sector.” PM Modi emphasized the importance of creating strict intolerance towards nepotism and creating awareness in every institution so that they can be saved.

He also talked about the fact that earlier selection in sports was based on nepotism. The selected sportsperson used to reach the sporting events but failed to win medals. However, since there have been transparency in the selection process and nepotism got curbed in the sector, India has been winning medals and positioning itself on higher platforms in all major sporting events.

The nepotism in Judiciary

It is noteworthy that PM Modi specifically mentioned that nepotism had grabbed every institution of India, and while he did not mention the Judiciary, it is one of the institutions that is mired in nepotism far more than any other industry. First of all, let’s talk about the Honourable Supreme Court of India, where 38 percent of the incumbent judges have deep family connections in the Judiciary and Government, which means 12 of the 32 judges are either related to a former Judge or to a political leader.

Interestingly, two of the future Chief Justices of India are offsprings of Former Chief Justices of India. Prima Facie, it feels like Judiciary is being kept hostage by a few selected families, all because of the methodology of selecting the SC Judges that is an appointment by a collegium and not by merit or any examination. It is not just the SC judges, but the data of High Court judges also give rise to suspicions of nepotism. Looking at the judges, one is inclined to believe that the collegium system is fostering and advancing not only those with merit but also possibly those with family connections in the judiciary.

Here is the list of Supreme Court Judges who have familial connections in the Judiciary or politics:

  • U. U. Lalit – Next Chief Justice of India, Son of UR Lalit, former add. Judge of Bombay High Court and Senior Counsel in the Supreme Court
  • Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud – Son of  Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud, longest service Chief Justice of India. In line to be Chief Justice
  • Sanjay Kishan Kaul – Family of Dattatreya Kauls, with his brother, a Judge in the Delhi High Court
  • K. M. Joseph – Son of K. K. Mathew, a judge of the Supreme Court of India
  • Dinesh Maheshwari – Son of prominent Jodhpur advocate Ramesh Chandra Maheshwari
  • Sanjiv Khanna – Nephew of SC Judge Hans Raj Khanna
  • Bhushan Ramkrishna Gavai – Son of R.S.Gavai, former MP and Governor
  • Krishna Murari – Nephew of GN Verma, a prominent lawyer and  president of the high court bar association
  • Vikram Nath – 4th Generation lawyer in the family
  • B. V. Nagarathna – Daughter of former Chief Justice of India, E. S. Venkataramiah. In line to be Chief Justice.
  • P. S. Narasimha – Son of a judge, Kodanda Ramayya
  • Sudhanshu Dhulia – Son of K. C. Dhulia, who was a judge of the Allahabad High Court

Has India ever tried to get rid of the collegium system? Yes, it did but it failed. Notably, in August 2014, the parliament got its act together and voted across party lines for a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) that would replace the collegium system. In 2016, a constitution bench of the Supreme Court heard a case on the constitutionality of the NJAC and struck it down. Here was a situation where the Supreme Court heard a case about a new parliamentary approved procedure to appoint Judges to the Supreme Court and ruled that the current collegium system where the incumbent judges of the Supreme Court have the power to appoint new judges is the ONLY fair procedure.

This passes neither the rule against bias nor the right to a fair hearing – surely, there is a case for conflict of interest in the Judges hearing and deciding a matter which impacts their own discretionary power to appoint new judges? In fact, one of the Justices, Kurian Joseph, who gave the original verdict against NJAC, openly declared in 2019 (after his retirement) that he regrets the decision.

Not only Supreme Court but High Courts also have the same problem. In May 2014, a Hindustan Times report suggested that 34 percent of 47 judges in Punjab and Haryana High Court had relatives practising law in the same place. For example, then-Judge Jasbir Singh had his son Navjot Singh practising law as an advocate on the same premises. Judge SK Mittal’s nephew Sanjay Mittal also practised as an advocate. Some of the judges had multiple relatives working as senior advocates and advocates. For example, Judge Sabina’s father, Sarjit Singh, was a senior advocate, husband Parminder Singh, brothers Navidran Singh and Vikas Singh, sister Rubina Singh and Uncle Jagdev Singh were also advocates.

While people are starting to speak up about the problem of nepotism in politics, sports, and even in the film industry in recent times, there hasn’t been much discussion about its presence in the judiciary. Since the judiciary is one of the most important pillars of our democracy and affects a common Indian directly, maybe the time has come to finally talk about its own problems with the prevalent nepotism.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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