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Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad yesterday said in the Parliament that Supreme Court judges must refrain from using “harsh words” in their judgments.
The remark was made in the context of a debate in the Rajya Sabha on the passing of certain amendments to the Aadhaar Act.
During the debate, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had criticised the passing of the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill. To this end, he had quoted from Justice DY Chandrachud’s dissenting judgment in the Aadhaar verdict passed in September last year.
In para 117 of his dissenting judgment, Justice Chandrachud had criticised the Union of India for superseding the role of the Rajya Sabha by passing the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill in the Lok Sabha. The judgment states,
“The Rajya Sabha has an important role in the making of laws. Superseding the authority of the Rajya Sabha is in conflict with the constitutional scheme and the legitimacy of democratic institutions. It constitutes a fraud on the Constitution.”
Yesterday, in response to Ramesh’s quoting of the judgment, Ravi Shankar Prasad said,
“…Parliament has the right to undo a judgment [of the Supreme Court] by removing the basis of the judgment.”
He went on to criticise Justice Chandrachud, albeit without naming him, for the “harsh words” used in his dissenting judgment. During his speech defending the Aadhaar Amendment Bill, Prasad said,
“…Bahut vinamrata se ek baat kehna chahta hoon. Supreme Court ke nyaymurtiyon ko samman hain, lekin “constitutional fraud” jaise shabdon ke prayog nahin hona chahiye.”
(I want to say something with utmost politeness. I have respect for Supreme Court judges, but they should not use phrases like “constitutional fraud”.)
“I can say with full sense of responsibility that harsh words like “constitutional fraud” must be avoided even by a lone judge who is a dissenting judge.”
[Watch the video of Ravi Shankar Prasad’s speech]
He went on to refer to another comment made by Justice Chandrachud in another judgment.
“Woh bahut vidhwan judge hai. Unhone ek doosre case main nirnay kiya. Aur mujhe ek baar unke saamne tippanni karni padi, Vigyan Bhavan me, Law Day par. Unhone kaha ki Bharat ke Samvidhan ko banane waale yeh jaante the ki bahumat ka sarkar tanashah hoti hai. Yeh kahaan se le aaye woh?”
(He is a very learned judge. He had held in another judgment – and I had to confront him at the Law Day celebrations at Vigyan Bhavan – that the makers of the Constitution knew that majority government can lead to dictatorships. Where did he get this from?)
“These kinds of sweeping comments had best be avoided.”
After the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Aadhaar Act while striking down some provisions through its judgment passed last year, the Centre introduced the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which purportedly aims to address concerns regarding the Scheme.
In March this year, the Union Cabinet had promulgated the Aadhaar Ordinance, 2019 after the Amendment Bill failed to get passed during the Budget Session of Parliament.
The Ordinance envisions amendments to the Indian Telegraph Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, making it voluntary for citizens to use Aadhaar as a proof of ID. This effectively means that Aadhaar can be used as voluntary ID proof for obtaining a SIM card and for opening a bank account.
However, the amendments make it clear that “no client or beneficial owner shall be denied services for not having an Aadhaar number”.
Through the introduction of a new Section 33A, the Bill, and now the Ordinance, aims to punish entities failing to comply with provisions of the Act with civil penalties that may amount to a fine of one crore rupees for each contravention.