Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi Monday recused himself from hearing a public interest litigation challenging the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as CBI interim Director, saying he would be attending a meeting on January 24 to select a new CBI Director.
“I will be participating in the meeting on the 24th”, CJI Gogoi said when the PIL filed by NGO Common Cause came up before a bench headed by him.
He was referring to the meeting of the high-powered selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha which is empowered under the law to select a Director for the CBI.
The meeting of the committee to select a replacement for Alok Verma, who was removed as CBI Director on January 10, is scheduled for January 24. “List the matter before a Bench without one of us (Ranjan Gogoi, CJI). The matter be listed before the Court No. 2 on Thursday i.e. 24th January, 2019,” the court ordered.
Court No. 2 is headed by Justice A K Sikri who attended the January 10 meeting of the high-powered committee which, in a 2-1 decision, removed Verma. The dissenter was Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha.
Justice Sikri had been nominated by the CJI to participate in that meeting of the committee because the latter had been on the bench that decided Verma’s petition which challenged the Centre’s October 23, 2018 order divesting him of his powers as CBI Director pending inquiry into allegations against him. The Centre said it was forced to act against Verma following a public spat between him and Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
On January 8, the bench headed by the CJI set aside the October 23 order but said the high-powered committee would take a call on Verma’s future. The committee met on January 10 and transferred Verma from Director CBI to Director General, Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards. Verma declined to take up the new post, asking the government to consider him “deemed superannuated”.
The government appointed Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director — he had earlier been entrusted the charge as interim chief after the October 23 order. NGO Common Cause went to Supreme Court, stating that Rao’s appointment was done without the authority of law since only the high-powered committee could take a decision on appointing a Director.