EDITORIAL: Judicial appointment

Parliamentary Hearing Committee must act responsibly and see that only men of integrity reach the highest positions

Chief Justice nominee Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana faces a tough time at the Parliamentary Hearing Committee, where he is being grilled on a number of issues, including some of the controversial verdicts he gave while he served as a judge in the courts. The hearings on Sunday could not complete for lack of time, and they will continue on Tuesday, when his fate will also likely be decided. Unlike in the past, heads of constitutional bodies - as well as ambassadorial nominees - must face the PHC before their appointment as per the constitutional norms to see that they are fit to hold the post and capable of carrying out their duty as per the expectations of the people. The hearings are not always pleasant, and the nominees face a barrage of unexpected questions while having to present themselves with a host of ideas and plans on what they intend to do if they assume office.

Accordingly, Rana has unveiled his action plan to bring good governance to shore up the people’s trust in the judiciary. He has said that middlemen would be discouraged from influencing court cases and that corruption would see zero tolerance under him, if he is confirmed as the chief justice. While his intentions merit praise, why then did quite a few of his verdicts in the past kick up a storm? For example, the PHC is seeking clarification from Rana on why he allowed the transfer of ownership of a public pond spread over four bighas of land in Parsa to one Pramod Bikram Shah. Or why he, as a judge in the Special Court, acquitted former minister Jay Prakash Prasad Gupta of corruption? His understanding that the card game “Marriage” was a game of intellectuals, and not gambling, actually raised quite a few eyebrows. With such controversial verdicts, are we in for more of such contentious decisions should he be appointed the Chief Justice?

While the practice of conducting a hearing in the parliamentary committee is being done as per the constitutional norms, one must see to it that it does not become a mere ritual. Seriousness seems to be lacking on the part of the PHC members while conducting the hearings. The questions are often shallow, mostly based on information picked up from media reports. On the other hand, the nominees make a host of promises, only to be forgotten once he or she is appointed. The agenda of reform in the judiciary tends to surface only when it is time to change the guard there. This perhaps explains why the people’s trust in the judiciary has been waning over the years. Hence, the PHC must act responsibly and see that only men of integrity reach the highest positions. But this is difficult in a country where politics has interfered in every sphere, including the judiciary. It is difficult, but the PHC has the moral obligation to keep politics out of any appointment being made, and this is particularly important in the judiciary because it ultimately keeps tab of the executive. The political parties, on their part, could start working to keep the judiciary independent and free from political maneuvering. This again boils down to the promises the parties made during the general election to give the country good governance.

Rhino deaths

Although the Chitwan National Park (CNP) has witnessed zero poaching over the years, the causes of natural deaths of the one-horned rhino in the park has worried the park officials and conservationists. Protecting the endangered pachyderm from increased natural deaths has now become a challenging task for all. According to data provided by the CNP officials as many as 21 rhinos have died this fiscal due to natural causes within the park and district forest areas. Eleven rhinos died due to old-age while others died as a result of in-fighting.

The CNP is home to the one-horned Asiatic rhino whose population has gone up due to rigorous conservation efforts by the government, park officials and cooperation from the locals. It is a matter of serious concern that such a large number of rhinos have died within a year. The park officials must find out the real causes of their natural deaths. One of the main reasons behind the deaths of such large numbers could be their overpopulation in the park. As per the 2015 census, there were 605 rhinos in the park spread over 952 sq km. One of the best ways to save them from increased natural deaths might be relocating them in other parks.