Now, Justice Sikri recuses himself from hearing plea challenging Nageshwar Rao’s appointment as interim CBI chief

Justice Sikri  

Within two days of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi recusing himself from hearing a petition challenging the appointment of M. Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI Director, Justice A.K. Sikri on Thursday bowed out of hearing the plea.

Justice Sikri himself was part of the committee, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which ousted Alok Verma as CBI Director and paved the way for the appointment of Mr. Rao as interim Director.

In the short hearing, Justice Sikri said he would ask the matter to be posted before another Bench of the court on January 25.

Committee meeting today

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, for petitioners NGO Common Cause and Anjali Bhardwaj, said "tomorrow [January 25] will be too late in this case" as the committee is meeting in a few hours to recommend a new CBI Director.

"First the CJI recuses and pushes the case to January 24, the very day a meeting of the committee is scheduled. Now, Your Lordship also recuses... It seems like an effort to frustrate our cause,"" Mr. Dave told the Bench.

Justice Sikri explained that the order passed by Chief Justice Gogoi was not on the administrative side, but a judicial order pronounced in court. Justice Sikri said he had no opportunity to recuse from the case till it came up for hearing.

"If it had been an administrative order, I would have refused and the case would have been listed before another Bench. It was a judicial order and I could have recused only when it came up today in court," he said.

Mr. Dave said the petitioners had no objection to Justice Sikri hearing the petition. They had no misgivings about the fact that Justice Sikri had been part of the committee meeting that took the decision on Mr. Verma.

Justice Sikri, who attended the meeting as a nominee of the CJI, cast the decisive vote to remove Mr. Verma.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal also agreed with Mr. Dave and urged Justice Sikri to hear the case.

Indicating that his participation in the meeting was indeed the reason for his decision to recuse from hearing the plea, Justice Sikri said: "I wish I could... There are some interesting points in this case. But I better not..."

When Mr. Dave continued to protest, Justice Sikri tried to placate him, even saying "Mr. Dave, I am older to you..."

Slow pace in case, says Dave

But Mr. Dave persisted on how the court has not even started hearing this petition. The slow pace in this case was in stark comparison to the speed with which Mr. Verma was ousted from office, he said.

"Since I'm recusing I cannot say anything," Justice Sikri said, ordering the case to be posted before a Bench on January 25.

The Chief Justice had recused, explaining that he was part of the scheduled meeting of the committee on January 24 to recommend a CBI Director. Chief Justice Gogoi would be attending the meeting as a member along with the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha.

Incidentally, the Chief Justice Gogoi had heard a 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 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 committee 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, had contended.

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

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 1:57:03 AM |

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