After Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice A K Sikri, the second senior-most judge in the Supreme Court, on Thursday recused himself from hearing a plea challenging the Centre's decision to appoint M Nageswara Rao as interim Central Bureau of Investigation director.
Justice Sikri, who had represented CJI Gogoi on the high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that controversially removed Alok Verma as CBI director on January 10, did not give any specific reason for withdrawing from hearing the case.
"You understand my position. I can't hear this matter," Justice Sikri said.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the petitioner NGO Common Cause, said, "It is becoming very frustrating and it is giving an impression that your lordship does not want to hear this matter. Earlier, the CJI had recused when the matter was listed for hearing. Now your lordship is also recusing from the matter".
"Court is silent. Government is silent. No body is saying anything. Where we will go. This is really frustrating," Dave said.
Justice Sikri then said, "I wish I could hear this matter".
A bench of Justices Sikri, S Abdul Nazeer and M R Shah said the matter should be listed for next week before a bench 'of which one of us (Justice Sikri) is not a member, after obtaining orders from the Chief Justice of India'.
On Monday, CJI Gogoi recused himself from hearing the plea, saying he would be a part of the selection committee to choose the probe agency's new chief.
The committee to select the Central Bureau of Investigation director comprises the prime minister, the leader of the largest opposition party and the CJI or his nominee judge of the apex court.
On Thursday, Dave said Justice Sikri recusing himself from hearing the case now would send a wrong signal and had he wanted to do so he should have done it before the case was listed.
Justice Sikri told the counsel that had this been an administrative order, he would have recused from the matter but he cannot recuse himself without sitting to hear the case when the order was passed on the judicial side on Monday by a CJI-led bench.
He said questions raised in the petition are 'good' and may have 'valid points' but he cannot hear the matter.
Dave said he does not have any problem if Justice Sikri continues to hear the case.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, who was also present in the court, said he too does not have any problem with Justice Sikri hearing the case.
The bench, however, maintained that it was listing the matter for hearing on Friday before some other bench that Justice Sikri is not part of.
Dave said the meeting for selecting the new CBI chief will be held Thursday evening and listing the matter on Friday or any other day would not serve any purpose.
However, the bench in its written order uploaded on the apex court's website Thursday evening listed the petition for hearing next week.
The NGO in its petition has sought specific mechanisms to ensure transparency in the process of appointing the CBI director. It has alleged that Rao's appointment was not made on the basis of recommendations of the high-powered selection committee.
According to the plea, the October 23 order appointing Rao interim CBI director was quashed by the top court on January 8 but the government 'acted in a completely mala fide, arbitrary and illegal manner' to appoint him again in 'complete contravention' of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.
On January 10, Rao, additional director in CBI, was made interim chief till the appointment of a new director, after the removal of Verma.
The plea has sought a direction to the Centre to appoint a regular CBI director forthwith.
It has also 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 CBI director be properly recorded and made available to citizens in consonance with the provisions of the Right to Information Act.