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How Justice Sikri's Participation Casts a Shadow on Selection Panel Decision to Remove Alok Verma

Justice AK Sikri sat in the Selection Committee's meeting around a month after accepting a post-retirement position, and sided with the government's views on transferring Alok Verma out of the CBI.

Utkarsh Anand | CNN-News18

Updated:January 14, 2019, 12:10 PM IST
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New Delhi: Justice AK Sikri's withdrawal from a nomination by the government to a London-based tribunal brings the decision of the Selection Committee to remove Alok Verma as the CBI chief under a cloud.

Justice Sikri, the most senior judge, was the nominee of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to attend the meeting of the panel, which had Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leader of the single largest party in opposition Mallikarjun Kharge as its other members.

In their meeting on January 10, Modi and Justice Sikri voted in favour of removing Alok Verma as CBI director, while Kharge opposed acting against Verma without giving him a chance to be heard before the high-powered panel.

A media report had on Sunday said that Justice Sikri had been nominated by the central government for appointment in the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT). Later in the evening, Justice Sikri is learnt to have written to the government, formally turning down the offer.

Sources in Justice Sikri's office confirmed to News18 that the judge will not be taking up the post.

News18 also learnt that Justice Sikri had given his verbal consent to the government's proposal in the first week of December. This fact becomes crucial since the judge sat in the Selection Committee's meeting around a month after his consent, and sided with the government's views on transferring Verma.

When Justice Sikri had given his consent, he could not have known that he might be asked one day to cast the deciding vote on Verma's fate. But if such a situation eventually emerged, the judge had to be like the Ceaser's wife and above all suspicion — a principle that every judge in the apex court preaches every day to scores of litigants.

Justice Sikri's presence in the meeting of the Selection Committee was decided by CJI Gogoi, who had been officially informed that the government has chosen Justice Sikri for the coveted post.

Thus, the shadow looms large over the decision of the CJI to nominate Justice Sikri in his place for the Selection Committee meeting despite his knowledge.

If the CJI had a conflict of interest in participating as a member of this panel since he had decided Alok Verma's petition in the court, how could he not see the possible conflict of interest of his brother judge who had been already picked up by the government for a post-retirement job?

The second part of the problem is that even if Justice Gogoi asked Justice Sikri to go for the meeting, why did the latter not withdraw himself citing his possible conflict of interest and an impending controversy?

Propriety demands a judge to keep away from a political slugfest beyond the call of duty in courtrooms. And this principle becomes all the more binding when a judge has already accepted a post-retirement job.

Justice Sikri was perhaps disabled in legality and in principles to participate in the Selection Committee meeting. But he still opted to go and favoured one side. Days later, he withdrew his consent for the government-offered job.

In law, a decision is vitiated on the grounds of non-disclosure of relevant facts and conflict of interest.

The latest twist may replenish the armoury of Congress as well as those looking for concrete legal grounds to challenge the Selection Committee's decision against Verma.

Kharge can call the decision bad in law on account of non-disclosure of the fact that Justice Sikri had already been picked up by the government for a post-retirement position when he came to attend the key meeting. Kharge could have sought recusal of Justice Sikri on this ground.

Besides, conflict of interest and judicial propriety are the other contentions that may be called into judicial scrutiny should a plea be moved in the Supreme Court against the validity of the decision to oust Verma.

After all, not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.

| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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