Another SC judge recuses himself from hearing plea against appointment of Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director

Interim Director of the CBI M. Nageswara Rao.   | Photo Credit: AP

In two weeks and before the month has ended, three judges of the Supreme Court have recused themselves from hearing a petition challenging the government's appointment of M. Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI Director.

One of the three was the Chief Justice of India. The latest recusal on Thursday is a future Chief Justice of India.

Justice N.V. Ramana, who is in the line of seniority to be the Chief Justice of India, on Thursday recused himself from hearing the case citing personal reasons.

Third judge to recuse himself

It was Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi who first bowed out of hearing the petition filed by NGO Common Cause. Two days later, on January 24, the number two judge in the Supreme Court, Justice Sikri followed suit.

Justice Sikri's recusal came on the very morning of the day of the inconclusive meeting of the high-powered committee chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice Gogoi and Opposition Leader Mallikarjun Kharge. Mr. Kharge had raised objections about the list of persons short-listed and the process followed for the proposed selection of CBI Director.

Justice Ramana's recusal coincides with the continuing state of limbo in the appointment process which has seen Mr. Rao prevail in office as interim Director of the country's premier agency.

With Justice Ramana's recusal, the petition returns to the desk of the CJI on the administrative side. The CJI, as Master of Roster, will now have to allocate the case to another Bench. Justice S.A. Bobde, who is next in line of seniority to be CJI after Justice Gogoi retires on November 7 this year has been on leave for the past few days.

The case had earlier gone to the court of Justice Sikri despite him being a part of the high-powered committee chaired by Prime Minister Modi, which had ousted Alok Verma as CBI Director and paved the way for the appointment of Mr. Rao as interim Director.  Justice Sikri had refused to hear the case for the very reason that he was part of the committee.

Before Justice Sikri, Chief Justice Gogoi had recused himself, explaining that he was part of the scheduled meeting of the high-powered committee on January 24 to recommend a CBI Director.

His position in the committee had, however, not prevented Chief Justice Gogoi from hearing the petition filed by Mr. Verma against the latter’s “overnight” divestment from office on October 23-24 last year even though the CJI was a member of the high-powered committee. Chief Justice Gogoi had also authored the judgment for the Bench allowing Mr. Verma to return to office but ultimately ended in his removal.

The petition against the appointment of Mr. Rao has claimed that the government “completely bypassed” the statutory requirement to consult the high-powered selection committee of the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and the Chief Justice of India before appointing Mr. Rao on January 10.

“The Government of India 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,” the petition, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, has contended.

Besides, it argued that Mr. Rao’s earlier appointment as interim CBI Director following the ouster of Alok Verma on October 23 was quashed by the Supreme Court in a judgment on January 8. Yet the January 10 order has stated that the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet approved the appointment of Mr. Rao “as per the earlier arrangement”.

Lack of transparency in the appointment of the CBI Director allows the government to exercise undue influence in the appointment process especially at the stage of short-listing of candidates, the petition has said.

Incidentally, the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, the statute which mans the CBI, does not conceive an interim Director.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 8:22:22 AM |

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