Third SC judge recuses himself from hearing on Nageswara Rao’s appointment as interim CBI director

Justice NV Ramana is the third judge after Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice AK Sikri to recuse in the plea filed by an NGO, Common Cause and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Ashutosh Sharma

After Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and Justice AK Sikri, another Supreme Court judge, Justice NV Ramana on Thursday recused himself from hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging Modi’s government’s decision to appoint M Nageswara Rao as interim director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

A three-judge bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee was to hear the PIL filed by an NGO, Common Cause and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj on Thursday, 31 January 2019.

While recusing himself from hearing the matter, Justice Ramana reportedly said that Rao is from his home state and he had attended the wedding ceremony of Rao’s daughter. He has referred the matter to CJI Gogoi to list it before an appropriate bench.

Earlier, CJI Gogoi had recused himself from the case on January 21, maintaining that that he was part of the Selection Committee comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge, which selects the CBI chief.

Similarly, Justice Sikri, the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, had declined to hear the matter on January 24. Justice Sikri had said that he was part of the high-powered committee that had transferred Alok Verma from the office of Director CBI. The committee comprised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the largest Opposition party in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjuna Kharge and Justice Sikri. The committee, by a vote of 2:1, had decided to transfer Alok Verma, out of the CBI. However, Kharge had dissented with the majority decision.

Rao had taken charge of the office of the Director CBI by an order dated January 10, 2019 issued by the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet after the unceremonious ouster of Alok Verma.

Seeking specific mechanisms to ensure transparency in the process of appointing the CBI director, the petitioners through senior advocate Prashant Bhushan have argued that the appointment of Rao as interim CBI director was “illegal, arbitrary, mala fide” and in violation of the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946.

Their plea claimed that the Supreme Court on January 8 had quashed the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as the interim Director CBI, along with the orders of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) divesting Alok Verma of his powers and functions as CBI director.

The petitioners have contended that the order dated January 10 states that the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet has approved Rao’s appointment “as per the earlier arrangement”.

The government, according to the petition, still invoked its earlier order dated October 23, 2018 which was quashed by the top court, to once again make Nageswara Rao interim director of the CBI even though it was not the competent authority and did not have any powers to make the appointment; without following the due process laid down in the DSPE Act.

The petition has also drawn court’s attention towards Bhardwaj’s RTI applications, seeking an immediate direction to the government to ensure that “all records” of deliberations and rational criteria related to short-listing and selection of the CBI director be properly recorded and made available to citizens in consonance with the provisions of the RTI Act.

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