- Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi recused himself from hearing on Nageswara Rao
- NGO filed petition challenging Mr Rao's appointment as interim CBI chief
- Chief Justice is member of PM-led panel that will pick new CBI chief
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has withdrawn from the hearing on a case challenging the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI chief.
The Chief Justice said he was recusing himself from the hearing because he is a member of the high-powered selection committee that will pick a successor to Alok Verma, who was removed as CBI director months after he was sent on leave and replaced by Nageswara Rao.
Nageswara Rao took over from him a second time after the selection committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to remove Alok Verma and transfer him to fire services.
The selection panel is likely to meet on January 24 to appoint the new CBI director. Besides PM Modi and the Chief Justice, senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge is part of the committee, representing the opposition.
Chief Justice Gogoi had recused himself from the panel and before it decided to sack Alok Verma as he was part of the Supreme Court bench that passed an order on Mr Verma. Another top court judge, AK Sikri, was nominated to represent him.
An NGO had filed a petition last Monday through advocate Prashant Bhushan, seeking a direction to cancel the government's order appointing Mr Rao as the acting director of the agency. Common Cause, that filed the petition, said it was "illegal, arbitrary, mala fide and in violation of the Delhi Police Special Establishment (DPSE) Act". The NGO also sought a direction to the government to appoint a regular director of the CBI as per the rules.
Nageswara Rao, a 1986-batch Odisha cadre IPS officer, first took charge as interim chief under dramatic circumstances on October 23, around 2 am, after Mr Verma was divested of his powers and sent away on compulsory leave.
Soon after he took charge of the CBI, every decision made by Mr Verma was cancelled, sources said. Mr Verma, after returning to work, had reversed many transfers ordered by Mr Rao, mostly of members in his team, and also ordered the transfer of five officers.
Mr Verma, however, was removed by the PM-led panel just two days after the Supreme Court reinstated him as the CBI chief.