Apprehensions of Supreme Court Justice AK Sikri recusing himself from hearing the petition challenging appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director came true today (Thursday, Jan 24).
Earlier, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi had recused himself from the case and ordered that the plea be heard by a Bench headed by Justice Sikri on Jan 24.
Today is also the day when the high powered selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, the CJI or his nominee and the Leader of Opposition – or the leader of largest opposition party – meets to choose a CBI directo from a list of 17 IPS officers. The CJI had cited this as the reason for his inability to hear the case.
Justice Sikri, withdrawing himself from hearing of the case, said, “I would have opted out had CJI passed an administrative order allotting the case to me. But CJI did it in court and I had no opportunity to refuse.” He then asked the matter to be listed tomorrow (Friday, January 25).
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave protested Sikri’s move today, saying the Supreme Court was trying to frustrate the cause of the petition. “The high-powered committee is meeting today on a new CBI Director. Hearing this case tomorrow is too late. We wish you hear this case. We have no problem with you having participated in the earlier committee meeting to remove Alok Verma,” he said.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, who appeared for the government, also agreed with Mr. Dave that Justice Sikri should hear the case. “I wish I could. There are points of interest in this case. But, no. Better not to,” said Justice Sikri.
“Since I’m rescuing, I cant hear…please understand my position” Justice Sikri told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who is representing the petitioner.
Justice Sikri was part of the selection committee meeting on Jan 10, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which removed Alok Verma as CBI Director and paved the way for the appointment of Rao as interim Director. The CJI had named Justice Sikri as his nominee and recused himself from being part of the selection committee to decide if Verma can continue in office as he had authored the verdict that conditionally reinstated Verma as CBI director on January 8, over two months after he was divested of his charge by the CVC and the Modi government.
In the committee meeting, Justice Sikri had voted with PM Modi to remove Verma, resulting in a 2:1 verdict against the CBI director.
Leader of Congress, the largest opposition party, Mallikarjun Kharge had disagreed with the decision.
With Verma’s removal, Rao was brought back as the interim CBI chief. Earlier, Rao had held the same position when Verma was on forced leave and his petition in the apex court challenging the Centre’s decision to divest him of his responsibilities was pending decision.
Rao’s appointment was challenged before a bench headed by Chief Justice Gogoi, but the CJI had recused himself from hearing the plea, citing the selection committee meeting on Jan 24 to choose Verma’s successor and directed the Registry to list the petition before another bench that did not include him.
The petition was then listed before the bench of Justices Sikri, S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah. However, as soon as the case came up for hearing, on Thursday, Justice Sikri announced that he is recusing himself from hearing the case and that the petition must be listed before a different bench with the permission of the Chief Justice.
It was known that Justice Sikri would likely recuse himself from the matter given his involvement in Verma’s dismissal. Yet, the petition was listed before a bench headed by him.