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Justice Sikri recuses himself from hearing plea challenging Rao’s appointment as interim CBI director

CJI Ranjan Gogoi had on Monday recused himself from hearing the plea challenging the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director

Editorials

In India

New Delhi: Supreme Court judge Justice AK Sikri on Thursday recused himself from hearing a plea challenging the Centre’s decision to appoint M Nageswara Rao as the interim CBI director. A bench headed by Justice Sikri listed the matter for Friday for hearing before a different bench.

Justice Sikri was part of the high powered panel which had removed CBI Director Alok Verma.

As soon as the matter came up for hearing, Justice Sikri told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for petitioner NGO Common Cause, that he would not like to hear the matter and was recusing himself. “You understand my position. I can’t hear this matter,” Justice Sikri said.

To this Dave said, “It is becoming very frustrating and it is giving the impression that your Lordship does not want to hear this matter. Earlier also, the CJI had recused when the matter was listed for hearing. Now your lordship (Justice Sikri) is also recusing from the matter”. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had on Monday recused himself from hearing the plea challenging the appointment of Rao as interim CBI director, saying he would be part of the selection committee to choose the agency’s new chief.

To this, Justice Sikri said, he is recusing from the matter and can’t say anything.
Dave said that if Lordship (Justice Sikri) wanted to recuse from hearing this matter then he should have done it earlier.

Justice Sikri told Dave that had this been an administrative order, he would have recused from the matter but he can’t recuse himself from the matter without sitting to hear the case when the order was passed on the judicial side on Monday. He further said that the questions raised in the petition are “good” and may have “valid points” but he can’t hear the matter.

Dave said he doesn’t have any problem if Justice Sikri continues hearing the case.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was also present in the court, said he too doesn’t have any problem if Justice Sikri continues hearing the case.

The petition has sought specific mechanisms to ensure transparency in the process of appointing the CBI director.

It alleged that Rao’s appointment was not made on the basis of recommendations of the high-powered selection committee.

According to the plea, the order of 23 October last year appointing Rao as interim CBI director was quashed by the top court on 8 January, but the government “acted in a completely mala fide, arbitrary and illegal manner” to appoint him again in “complete contravention” of the DSPE (Delhi Special Police Establishment) Act.

On 10 January, Rao, additional director in the CBI, was made interim chief till the appointment of a new director. This was after a high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed Verma as chief of the probe agency.

It sought a direction to the Centre to appoint a regular CBI director forthwith by following the procedure laid down in accordance with provisions of the DSPE Act, as amended by the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.

Besides, the petition has sought an immediate direction to the government to ensure that “all records of deliberations and rational criteria related to short-listing and selection of the director, CBI, be properly recorded and made available to citizens in consonance with the provisions of the RTI Act”.

The plea said the government should ensure transparency in the short-listing, election and appointment process of the CBI director by publicly disclosing, including through the website, the procedure and rational criteria for short-listing candidates, if it is done.

It has also sought a direction to the Centre ensuring that the process of selecting a CBI director, including composition, mandate and minutes of the meetings of the search committee, be disclosed publicly along with names of short-listed candidates so people can inform the panel of any significant adverse information they may have about any such candidate.

The plea has claimed that lack of transparency in the appointment prevents any public scrutiny of the process and allows the “government to exercise undue influence” in the appointment process especially at the stage of short-listing of candidates.

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