Just a year before the general election, Kiren Rijiju was unexpectedly replaced as the Union Law Minister by Arjun Ram Meghwal today.
Less than a year after being elevated to the Law Ministry with cabinet status, and being known as one of the government’s most high-profile ministers and a problem solver, Rijiju has been moved to the relatively low-key Ministry of Earth Sciences.
Arjun Ram Meghwal, Minister of State in charge of Parliamentary Affairs, will now also have Independent Charge of the Law Ministry. This is the first time in recent history that the Law Minister is not of cabinet rank.
Rijiju thanked the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, and the judges in a post for his former ministry. India now has a new law minister at a crucial moment when the Supreme Court and the government have frequently not agreed on the appointment of judges.
Due to numerous clashes between the executive branch and the judiciary as well as his outspoken criticism of the Supreme Court’s collegium system of appointing judges, Rijiju’s brief term was controversial.
A two-judge Supreme Court bench had expressed concern in February over the hold-up in clearing judge transfers and appointments, calling it a very serious issue and warning “administrative and judicial actions which might not be palatable” in response.
Rijiju had dismissed the warning claiming that the nation would be governed in accordance with the Constitution and the desires of the populace. “Sometimes discussions are held in the country on some matters and in a democracy everyone has the right to express their opinion. But people sitting in responsible positions have to think before saying anything, whether it will benefit the country or not,” he had said at an event, stressing that “nobody can give a warning to anyone”.
When Rijiju stated last year that the collegium system is “alien” to the Constitution and had no public support, the conflict between the government and the judiciary erupted.
“Anything which is alien to the Constitution merely because of the decision taken by the courts or some judges, how do you expect that the decision will be backed by the country,” he had said.
The National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, which gave the government a bigger involvement in judicial appointments and was subsequently repealed by the Supreme Court, was another item he had mentioned. It was enacted by Parliament in 2014 but was not implemented.
This morning, Rijiju’s transfer was announced in a brief statement from the President’s House, citing the Prime Minister’s advice. Shortly after, Rijiju updated his Twitter bio.
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