A third Supreme Court judge withdrew from the hearing today on a petition challenging the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Justice NV Ramana’s exit puts off the case once again.
Justice Ramana recused himself saying he couldn’t hear the case because of his association with Nageswara Rao. “Nageswara Rao is from my home state and I have attended his daughter’s wedding,” said the judge.
Senior lawyer Dushyant Dave, who is representing the petitioner Common Cause, asked the court to “please request the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to constitute a bench for early hearing of the case.” Justice Ramana responded: “How can I request the CJI? It is for the registry to list the petition.”
Apart from Justice Ramana, the other judges on the bench are Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee.
Earlier, Chief Justice Gogoi and Justice AK Sikri had withdrawn from the case.
Dushyant Dave had then said it was “sending wrong signals” that the court does not want to hear the case.
The Chief Justice exited because he is a member of the Prime Minister-led selection committee that will pick a name to head the CBI. Justice AK Sikri was stand-in for the Chief Justice when he dropped out of the panel while considering former CBI chief Alok Verma’s case.
“Your participation in the last meeting has nothing to do with it. We have no objection to you hearing the matter,” Dushyant Dave had 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.”
Alok Verma was removed earlier this month, three 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.
Common Cause, a non-profit, wants the court to cancel the government’s order appointing Mr Rao as acting CBI director. Common Cause said it was “illegal, arbitrary, mala fide and in violation of the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act”.
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.