Days after he was nominated by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to the three-member panel that controversially decided to transfer CBI Director Alok Verma from the agency, an anguished Justice A K Sikri, has turned down a month-old offer from the central government for a part-time assignment in London, The Indian Express has learnt.
Justice Sikri is learnt to have written to the Law Ministry to formally withdraw his consent Sunday evening, as first reported by The Indian Express, hours after theprint.in website reported about his selection as a member of the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT).
Justice Sikri, the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, is learnt to have expressed his “pain” over the connection being drawn over his nomination to the CSAT with the decision of the CBI panel that decided to transfer Verma, despite there being “no correlation” between the two.
Official sources told The Indian Express that Justice Sikri’s decision has taken the government by surprise since it had obtained his consent for the assignment in the first week of December last year, almost a month before the Chief Justice of India nominated him to the high-powered CBI selection panel.
Sources said it was Asia’s turn in the Commonwealth body and India took the opportunity to take that slot. “By this move, Justice Sikri has demonstrated the highest standards of probity,” said a senior government functionary.
Government sources also pointed out that Justice Sikri was part of the Supreme Court Bench that assembled in the middle of the night last summer to curtail the window for the floor test in Karnataka over apprehensions of horse-trading following the Assembly elections. That ruling had dashed the BJP’s hopes of winning a majority, sources said.
Justice Sikri is scheduled to retire from the Supreme Court on March 6, 2019. As a part of the eight-member CSAT, he would have been called upon occasionally to appear on benches for dispute resolution, sources said.
According to CSAT’s official website, its members are “selected by Commonwealth Governments on a regionally representative basis from among persons of high moral character who must hold or have held high judicial office in a Commonwealth country… The members are appointed on a four year term which may be renewed only once”.
Following the Supreme Court’s January 8 order reinstating Verma, Justice Sikri was asked to represent the Chief Justice of India as part of the CBI panel, which also had Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge as members, to decide on Verma’s future. The decision of the panel to oust Verma, however, triggered controversy with Kharge recording his dissent.
On January 11, The Indian Express first reported that Justice (retd) A K Patnaik, who was asked by the Supreme Court to oversee the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) inquiry against Verma, had distanced himself from the probe report that formed the basis of the decision taken by the panel.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Justice (retd) Patnaik had said there was “no evidence of corruption” against Verma and described the panel’s decision to move him out as “very, very hasty”.
Verma, meanwhile, refused to take up his new posting — DG, Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards — and informed the government that he “may be deemed as superannuated” with immediate effect. Verma was to complete his fixed two-year tenure as CBI Director on January 31, 2019.
(With ENS in Delhi)