Days after CJI Ranjan Gogoi recused himself from hearing a plea challenging the appointment of M Nageshwar Rao as the interim CBI chief, Justice AK Sikri Thursday also withdrew from hearing it. The matter will now be heard by a different bench on Friday.
“Since I’m recusing, I can’t hear…please understand my position” Justice Sikri told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who is representing the petitioner. Justice Sikri was present in the January 10 meeting of the high-powered committee which removed CBI chief Alok Verma and appointed Nageswar Rao as the interim director.
Responding to Justice Sikri, Dave said, “It is becoming very frustrating and it is giving an impression that your Lordship does not want to hear this matter. Earlier also the CJI had recused when the matter was listed for hearing. Now your lordship (Justice Sikri) is also recusing from the matter”. To this Justice Sikri said, he is recusing from the matter and can’t say anything.
On Dave’s remarks that he should have recused himself earlier, Justice Sikri told that had this been an administrative order, he would have recused from the matter but he can’t recuse himself from the matter without sitting to hear the case. He further said that the questions raised in the petition are “good” and may have “valid points” but he can’t hear the matter.
The case was allotted to Justice AK Sikri after CJI Ranjan Gogoi withdrew as he had to attend the high-power selection committee to select the new CBI chief today. The panel led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to announce Alok Verma’s successor in the agency today.
In a 2-1 decision, the selection committee voted to remove Verma over “extremely serious nature of observations made by the CVC against him”. The lone 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 reinstated Verma, setting aside the Centre’s order of sending him on forced leave.
Justice Sikri, the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, courted controversy after media reported about his selection as a member of the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT). “Pained” over the connection being drawn over his nomination to the CSAT with the decision to transfer Verma, despite there being “no correlation” between the two, Sikri later turned it down, The Indian Express reported first.
Nageswar Rao’s appointment was challenged by NGO Common Cause, stating that it was “not made on the basis of recommendations of the high-powered selection committee”. Justice Sikri who was to hear the plea today told the petitioner’s counsel that he was withdrawing from the case.
The petitioner challenging Rao’s appointment want a full-time chief for the agency. The petitioner alleged that “Government… has attempted to stifle the independence of the institution of the CBI by appointing the Director of the CBI in an arbitrary and illegal manner” and that “the lack of transparency in the process of appointment prevents any meaningful public scrutiny and allows the government to exercise undue influence in the process especially at the stage of short-listing of candidates, thereby undermining the institution of the CBI”.