Arjun Ram Meghwal has been appointed as India’s new Minister of Law and Justice, replacing Kiren Rijiju who has been moved to the Ministry of Earth Sciences. Meghwal, who has administrative experience as an IAS officer in Rajasthan, is expected to bring his expertise to the ministry.
Meanwhile, Rijiju’s criticism of the collegium system of appointing judges and his work on key legal issues such as the Uniform Civil Code are reported to have contributed to his departure from the ministry. In numerous instances, he referred to the collegium system of selecting judges as “opaque,” “alien to the Constitution,” and the “only system in the world where judges appoint people known to them.”
He insisted that there was no conflict between the court and the executive branch, but he also made clear that judges could not be recruited through judicial orders; rather, the government must accomplish this. He emphasised that the judiciary’s main responsibility is to decide cases, not to make judicial selections.
Although his statements were widely reported, it’s unclear if they had any real impact. It is unknown if his strategy played any role in the shift in his portfolio. The Supreme Court of India and Chief Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud have declined to weigh in on the controversy.
On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected a petition calling for the Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar and law minister Kiran Rijiju to be punished for their divisive comments on the legal system and the collegium system.
The Bombay Lawyers Association (BLA) had appealed a Bombay high court decision, which was being heard by the supreme court. The lawyers’ group claimed in their argument before the high court that Rijiju and Dhankhar were ineligible to occupy the constitutional positions because of their behavior and public comments critical of the Supreme Court and the collegium, which demonstrated a lack of confidence in the Constitution.
The Association cited a number of statements made by Rijiju and Dhankhar over the previous year, indicating a continuous conflict between the government and the judiciary about how judges are chosen and how their respective areas of responsibility are split.
Meghwal’s responsibilities now include the independent charge of Minister of State in the Ministry of Law and Justice, in addition to his existing portfolios.
Meghwal, a candidate for governor of Rajasthan, is also the state minister of culture and parliamentary affairs. In Congress-ruled Rajasthan, where elections are scheduled for later this year, he is a well-known Scheduled Caste representative for the BJP. He is well recognised for advocating environmental causes and has served as a GB Member of Parliament three times.