Dhaka: Surendra Kumar Sinha, Bangladesh's first Hindu Chief Justice, is believed to have been forced to go on a leave amid reports that the government was upset with him over his decision to scrap parliament's authority in impeaching Supreme Court judges.
Mr Sinha, 66, left for Australia last night, saying he was "embarrassed" over the controversy surrounding his July ruling. He also denied claims by the government that he was sick.
"I am the guardian of the judiciary, in the interest of the judiciary I am leaving temporarily so that its image does not get hurt. I will return," he said ahead of his departure for Australia.
Mr Sinha added he "firmly believes" his stance over a recent verdict was misinterpreted to the government, upsetting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina but expected her to realise the fact soon.
He also rejected an earlier claim by Law Minister Anisul Huq about his sickness while his leave application to President Abdul Hamid was being processed.
"I am not sick, I am well... I am not fleeing either," the chief justice told newsmen in front of his official residence while on his way to the airport.
He also issued a written statement, in first such media interaction since the government announced his one-month "sick leave" beginning October 3.
Mr Sinha, however, added the way a "political quarter, lawyers, and especially some honourable ministers of the government and the honourable prime minister are criticising me recently over a verdict embarrassed me".
The government row with the higher judiciary sparked in July this year when the apex court delivered a verdict declaring void the 16th constitutional amendment, scrapping parliament's authority in impeaching Supreme Court judges.
The dispute grew in the subsequent weeks as several senior government leaders virtually attacked Mr Sinha over his comments, blasting the government for its reaction and gave Pakistan's example where ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was stripped of his premiership under an apex court ruling.
Prime Minister Hasina accused him of defaming parliament and president and "humiliating" Bangladesh by referring to Pakistan's instance premier's removal saying "he (chief justice) should have quit (and) the most humiliating thing is the comparison with Pakistan which is intolerable".
Main opposition outside parliament Bangladesh Nationalist Party of ex-premier Khaleda Zia has supported Mr Sinha, saying the government was trying to control the higher judiciary by launching a campaign against the apex court judgment.
Hours ahead of his departure, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said that the government forced Mr Sinha to go abroad to "establish its full control over the judiciary".
"It's now clear to the entire nation that the government has taken all the steps to send the chief justice abroad by force," he said.
Mr Sinha, Bangladesh's first Hindu chief justice whose tenure expires in January 2018, in his written statement said he was a "bit worried about the independence of the judiciary".
He complained that the judge who became the acting chief justice to perform the "routine" job in his absence was encouraged by the government to bring changes to the Supreme Court administration soon.
"If any interference is made in the chief justice's administration, it can be easily assumed that the government is interfering in the higher court and this will further deteriorate the relationship between the judiciary and the government. It would not bring any good to the state," he concluded.