Amidst his consistent criticism of the judiciary’s judge appointment process for high courts and the Supreme Court, Kiren Rijiju’s departure from the esteemed Law Ministry took place.
Rijiju, a three-term Lok Sabha member from Arunachal Pradesh, has slammed the collegium system of appointments to the higher judiciary as “alien” to the Constitution and even accused a few retired judges of being part of the “anti-India gang”, remarks that evoked strong reactions.
The 51-year-old Rijiju has held several portfolios in the BJP government, including Minister of State for Home, Minister of State for Minority Affairs and Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Youth Affairs and Sports before being elevated to the Cabinet rank as Law Minister in 2021.
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A fitness freak and a prominent face of the northeast in the council of ministers, Rijiju courted controversy recently by terming the system of appointments as an “uncle-judge syndrome” and expressed strong displeasure over the Supreme Court collegium making public Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing reports in connection with judicial appointments.
Rijiju also faced opposition fire over his remarks that there was a “calibrated effort” to undermine the Indian judiciary and “turn it against the government”.
With the Supreme Court is hearing pleas on legalising same-sex unions, he had on various occasions asserted that the issue related to the institution of marriage should be decided by Parliament — as it represents the will of the people — and not courts.
Rijiju had downplayed the differences with the judiciary, contending that there was “no Mahabharat” between the government and the judiciary, but said there will be “debate and discussion” in a democracy.
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At a public function, Rijiju had referred to a letter written by former Chief Justice of India NV Ramana on criticism of judges on social media and said judges are careful while delivering verdicts that could draw a strong public reaction.
However, he said, unlike politicians, a “judge does not have to face an election again”.
Last November, Rijiju drew the ire of the apex court for his outburst over the “delay” in appointments to the judiciary.
“Never say that the government is sitting on the files. Then dont send the files to the government, you appoint yourself, you run the show then,” Rijiju had said.
The apex court had wondered whether the delay in clearing appointments to the higher judiciary was because it struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission.
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As Sports Minister, Rijiju ensured an increase in prize money for national sports awards winners, prompt assistance for current and former athletes facing financial hardships and upgrade of infrastructure at various Sports Authority of India facilities across the country.
However, in a Cabinet reshuffle in July 2021, a fortnight ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Rijiju was promoted to Cabinet rank as Law Minister while Anurag Thakur was appointed Sports Minister.
Rijiju had succeeded Ravi Shankar Prasad as Law Minister. Prasad too had spoken against the collegium system but was not as vocal as Rijiju.
Bureaucrat-turned-politician Arjun Ram Meghwal, who has been appointed Law Minister, is only the third person to hold the post in the rank of Minister of State (Independent Charge).
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Meghwal is a low-profile, non-controversial three-term Lok Sabha member from Bikaner in Rajasthan and is considered a fresh face with no baggage in the Law Ministry.
Earlier, Ramakant Khalap, a Lok Sabha member of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, helmed the ministry in the rank of Minister of State (Independent Charge) under Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral.
Later, Arun Jaitley held the portfolio in the same rank for nearly two years from 2000-02 under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He had a brief stint in the BJP as general secretary and national spokesman before rejoining the government in the Cabinet rank in January 2003.
(With agency inputs)