Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Monday that there is a “widespread fear” that the phones of judges are being tapped. He was speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of the Delhi High Court, where he shared the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Chief Justice of India T S Thakur.
While Prasad quickly denied the allegation, Modi, in his speech, chose not to comment on the issue. Hours later, the home ministry issued a statement stating that such charges were “baseless and unfounded”.
Addressing the function, Kejriwal said: “I have heard judges talking among themselves. Two judges telling each other let us not talk on our phones as phones are being tapped. I told them this cannot happen, phones of judges cannot be tapped. They, however, said that they are being tapped. Everyone’s phone is being tapped.”
Kejriwal said he did not know if this was true but “there is a widespread fear”, adding that even if there is a “wrongdoing” by a judge, phone tapping should not be allowed. “There are many other ways to gather evidence for wrongdoing… otherwise it (tapping) will be the biggest assault on the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
Prasad, who spoke after Kejriwal, said: “I wish to deny with all the authority at my command that the phones of judges have been tapped… I want to make it very clear and categorical.”
He said the Prime Minister as well as other ministers in his government had fought for the independence of judiciary and freedom of media during Emergency. “Therefore, the commitment of the government led by Narendra Modi to the independence of the judiciary is completely irrefutable, fundamental, and we have suffered for that,” he said.
The home ministry, in its statement, said: “MHA strongly denies media reports alleging tapping of telephones of some judges. There is no truth in these reports. These reports are baseless and unfounded.”
Kejriwal also referred to the ongoing tussle between the Centre and the Supreme Court over the appointment of judges. “I feel that the Executive should not have even 0.001 per cent interference in the appointment of judges. If there is any interference, it is not good for the independence of the judiciary… The judiciary has to be completely independent of the Executive. The Executive already has so much power that the judiciary is required to keep a check and balance on them, he said.
Flagging vacancies in the higher judiciary, Kejriwal blamed the Centre, suggesting “interference” by it and referring to “rumours” that appointments are being stalled. “One is concerned because this gives rise to various kinds of rumours. Public opinion is most important in a democracy. Such kinds of rumours within public opinion is not a good thing. People discuss that a minister made recommendations for three judges… They are not being appointed, and hence the vacancies are not being filled. There is talk that the government does not want to appoint a particular judge, and hence the files are stuck,” he said. He advocated a rule whereby the collegium’s recommendations are implemented within 48 hours.
Prasad said the Supreme Court and the government were working together to make the collegium system more transparent. “We are working together to find an amicable solution,” he said, in an apparent reference to the Memorandum of Procedure — a document to guide the appointment of judiciary.