- Petition challenges appointment of M Nageswara Rao
- Chief Justice had also dropped out of high-powered selection panel
- Justice AK Sikri in panel when Alok Verma transfer's was to be considered
Justice AK Sikri of the Supreme Court has withdrawn himself from hearing a petition against the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim chief of the CBI. In the last hearing, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had withdrawn from the case because he was a member of the high-powered selection committee that will pick a name to head the Central Bureau of Investigation.
But the Chief Justice also dropped out of the high-powered selection panel, and Justice Sikri was brought in when former CBI chief Alok Verma transfer's was to be considered.
Mr Verma was removed months after he was sent on leave and replaced by Nageswara Rao. Mr 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 the fire services.
The petitioner, a non-profit group called Common Cause, said Justice Sikri withdrawing from the case sent a "wrong message". "We get a feeling that this court does not want to hear the matter," Dushyant Dave, appearing for Common Cause, told a bench of Justices Sikri, S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah.
"Your participation in the last meeting has nothing to do with it. We have no objection to you hearing the matter," Mr Dave told Justice Sikri. "It suits the government," Mr Dave said, pointing at the way the proceedings were progressing. "It is sending wrong signals. It is becoming personal... This court goes out of its way when it comes to removal of Alok Verma, but when it comes to new appointment, it is not inclined to hear," Mr Dave said.
Justice AK Sikri replied, "You know me well and my position. Since I am recusing I can't say anything... I agree the PIL raises some important issues. We can have it tomorrow and let me not be part of this hearing. If it is an administrative order I would have known, and since it is a judicial order I have to recuse now only."
The NGO had filed the petition last week 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 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.