NEW DELHI: The growing chasm between the judiciary and the Modi regime on Saturday marred Constitution Day celebrations with attorney general Mukul Rohatgi saying judges should not cross their "lakshman rekha" and Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur attacking the government again for failing to fill up 500 vacancies in high courts.
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad minced no words, saying that "governance must remain with those who are elected".
Addressing people who had gathered to mark the adoption of the Constitution in 1949, Rohatgi said: "The Constitution sets out a lakshman rekha for all three organs of democracy (judiciary, legislature and executive). They all should be self-controlled and self-restrained.
"The judiciary must realise that it has a lakshman rekha to follow. Greater the power, greater should be the circumspection, only then equilibrium will be restored."
Asserting that democracy could survive only if all three institutions work in harmony, he said: "That is what separation of powers is, as envisaged by the Constitution."
The judiciary and the Centre have been in confrontation mode since a five-judge constitution bench in October last year struck down the proposed national judicial appointments commission that had envisaged a role for the law minister in the appointment of judges, which is at present the exclusive domain of the CJI and four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.
Prasad said the judiciary had on most occasions done extraordinary work and showed exemplary courage but had unfortunately failed to protect citizens' fundamental rights during Emergency.
He cited the ADM Jabalpur case of 1976 in which a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court ruled by a 4:1 majority that the fundamental rights of citizens could be suspended by the government and that people had no right to approach courts during such time. "That was a monumental lapse (the ADM Jabalpur judgment)," he said.
Prasad continued: "According to the Constitution, courts must give directions, issue orders, set aside decisions which are incorrect and invalid, but the government must remain with those elected."
At another event, CJI Thakur crossed swords with Prasad on vacancies in high courts.
Justice Thakur, who had earlier warned the government that he would pass judicial orders for filling up the vacancies, on Saturday said at the All India Conference of Central Administrative Tribunal: "There are about 500 judges' posts which are vacant in the high courts.
"They should be working today, but they are not. At present, there are several vacant courtrooms in India but no judges available. A large number of proposals are still pending and I hope the government will intervene to end this crisis."
<>He complained that a number of tribunals lacked infrastructure and it was the "manpower deficit" that contributed to pendency of cases even in tribunals.
"Five thousand vacancies are there in the lower judiciary, in which the government of India has no role to play. That is something only for the judiciary to take care," he pointed out.
The lower judiciary refers to district and sessions court whose judges are appointed by the respective high courts.