In a mini-reshuffle, Kiren Rijiju was transferred from Law and Justice to the Earth Sciences Ministry. He has been replaced by Arjun Ram Meghwal. Junior Law Minister S P Singh Baghel ,too, was moved to the Health Ministry as the Minister of State.

President Draupadi Murmu approved the changes on the advice of the Prime Minister, said two different press communiqués issued by the President’s House. Rijiju was elevated to Union Cabinet Minister of Law and Justice in July 2021. He replaced Ravi Shankar Prasad who had resigned on account of reshuffle.

Rijiju tweeted: “It has been been a privilege and an honour to serve as the Union Minister of Law and Justice under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I thank Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, all Judges of Supreme Court, Chief Justices and Judges of High Courts, Lower Judiciary and entire law officers for the huge support in ensuring delivering ease of justice and providing legal services for our citizens.”

While Meghwal gets the promotion from the Minister of State to Minister of State (independent charge), it appears that the stature of the Law Ministry has been lowered as it will now be administered by the Minister of State (independent charge) and not by a Cabinet Minister. Also, in case of a Ministry headed by a Minister of State (Independent Charge), it normally does not have a Minister of State. All the Cabinet Ministers are regular participants in Cabinet meetings, while the Minister of State (Independent Charges) is a special invitee to the Cabinet meeting when any subject related to his Ministry is being taken for discussion.

What went wrong

Though the government and BJP were tight lipped, it is believed that Rijiju’s strident criticism of the judiciary, particularly on the system of appointment of Judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court did not go down well. On various occasions, he had 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”.

The matter further aggravated recently when he termed the system of appointments as an “uncle-judge syndrome” and expressed strong displeasure over the Supreme Court collegium, making Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing reports public, in connection with judicial appointments. He also faced opposition fire over his remarks that there was a “calibrated effort” to undermine the Indian judiciary and “turn it against the government”.

While 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.

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 don’t 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.

Meghwal promotion

Meghwal is the third Minister of State (Independent Charge) in Modi’s Council of Ministers. With his elevation, the buzzword is that it has been done keeping in mind the election on Rajasthan. Meghwal is also the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Culture.