If the constitutional bench is formed on seniority basis, the CJ will be barred from using his discretionary powers

Chief Justice (CJ) Cholendra SJB Rana has agreed to form a five-member constitutional bench based on seniority after drawing flak from the petitioners that the bench he had formed using his discretionary powers would not be impartial and neutral. CJ Rana has also expressed his commitment to make amendments to the rules governing the formation of the constitutional bench. He made this commitment after meeting with officials of the Supreme Court Bar Association on Tuesday. If a justice from among the senior-most ones cannot sit on the bench due to conflict of interest or health reason, the subsequent senior-most justice will be appointed to the bench.

Rana has said he would form a new constitutional bench on June 6 as Justices Deepak Kumar Karki and Anand Mohan Bhattarai opted out of the bench today after Justices Tej Bahadur KC and Bam Kumar Shrestha refused to recuse themselves from the bench. The petitioners had earlier argued that the presence of KC and Shrestha in the bench would give rise to a conflict of interest in the House dissolution case as Shrestha was one of the justices nullifying the unification of the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre, while KC is one of the three justices who rejected the review petition on that case. The petitioners challenging the dissolution of the House for the second time have pleaded that the nullification of the two communist parties had direct links with the dissolution of the Parliament, an argument which has been disowned by both KC and Shrestha.

This is, perhaps, the first time that the CJ has been forced to reconstitute a bench due to the perceived political interest of both the petitioners and the justices themselves.

As has been openly displayed, there is deep distrust between and among the justices in the apex court, which is supposed to impart justice in an impartial and neutral manner based on evidence and constitutional provisions.

There is no guarantee that the new constitutional bench also will not land in controversy as many of the apex court justices have been involved in one or the other case involving conflict of interest, some of them having financial and political interest.

Hence, given the unfolding scenario, it seems the justices are hell-bent on passing the verdict on the case in favour of their clients they support politically.

It will take at least one week to make amendments to the Constitutional Bench Operation Rules-2072.

However, the rules should be approved by a majority of the 20 justices in the apex court. If the constitutional bench is reconstituted on seniority basis, the CJ will be barred from using his discretionary powers while forming the bench. It will also ensure uniformity in other cases that have been pending in the constitutional bench. In this scenario, the CJ might make changes in the current roster of the justices meant for the bench so that he can pick persons of his choice.

But the main weakness of the judiciary is it has failed to rise above partisan interest although it is called the 'third chamber of parliament' because of its constitutional power even to examine the legitimacy of a law to be made by the parliament. No controversy should arise over the formation of the bench once it is formed on seniority basis.

Costly cooking oil

For the majority of the people who have great difficulty making ends meet, any rise in the price of food puts a strain on their pocket. Despite the government's claims that inflation is under control, the price of basic foodstuffs like rice, lentils, vegetables and meat keeps increasing in the local market without any reason. In the latest case, it is the turn of cooking oil, whose price has increased by more than Rs 50 a litre this year compared to last year. This has been attributed to the increase in the price of raw materials in international market, as per the Nepal Vegetable Ghee and Oil Manufacturers' Association.

There are 20 cooking oil industries affiliated to the association, which rely heavily on imports of sunflower, soybean and mustard seeds from Europe, America and Australia. However, the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Protection of Consumer Interest shouldn't take the association's rationale for the price hike of cooking oil at face value. A thorough investigation is necessary to see that there is no cartelling in jacking up the price. At the same time, it's only logical that the government should provide incentives to the farmers to grow enough oil seeds in the country itself.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 3, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.