Justice Sikri was part of the three-member panel that decided to remove Alok Verma as CBI chief this month.
New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government decided last month to nominate senior Supreme Court Judge A.K. Sikri to the vacant post of president/member in the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT).
The judge, second in seniority after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, will join the CSAT after his retirement as Supreme Court judge on 6 March.
The members of the prestigious tribunal are appointed for a four-year term, which may be renewed for one more term.
On 8 January, Justice Sikri’s vote proved decisive in the ouster of the then CBI director Alok Verma over corruption charges, a decision that has drawn a lot of flak, including from those connected to the probe against Verma.
His vote was important since he was the third member of the high-level committee — apart from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leader of the single-largest party in opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, both of whom had diametrically opposite views on Verma’s future in the CBI — asked to take the politically-sensitive decision by the Supreme Court.
Justice Sikri had the same view as the government at the meeting, where Kharge gave a strong dissent note.
Decision taken at ‘highest levels’
The CSAT is the final arbiter of disputes between its 53 member-countries.
It has eight members, including the president, selected by Commonwealth governments on a “regionally representative basis from among persons of high moral character who must hold or have held high judicial office in a Commonwealth country or who are jurisconsults with at least 10 years’ experience”.
There is one vacancy in the tribunal currently and India hasn’t been a member of the CSAT for several years now. Terms of several existing members are also getting over in the next few months, sources said.
Sources in the Supreme Court told ThePrint that Union Minister for Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to CJI Gogoi last month, apprising him of the External Affairs Ministry’s decision to nominate Justice Sikri to the coveted post and seeking his consent.
The decision to nominate Justice Sikri to the post was taken “at the highest levels”, the sources added.
It is learnt that CJI Gogoi replied to the government in the affirmative after checking with Justice Sikri.
Asked if the government had requested the CJI to nominate a judge or unilaterally chosen Justice Sikri, a source said, “The government was clear that it had him (Sikri) in mind when it wrote to the CJI. Maybe, somebody in the government had already taken his consent.”
In May last year, Justice Sikri had led a Supreme Court bench that ordered an immediate floor test in Karnataka after the assembly election threw up a fractured mandate, cancelling the 15-day window given by the governor to the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP, the single-largest party, had staked claim to form the government. However, later, unable to prove its majority, the day-old B.S. Yeddyurappa government resigned, paving the way for a Congress-JD(S) coalition to assume office.
Criticism over Verma removal
The decision of the three-member panel to oust Verma from his post has attracted criticism, with former Supreme Court judge A.K. Patnaik, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the preliminary probe by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) into complaints against Verma, also questioning the same.
Talking to The Indian Express Saturday, Justice Patnaik had termed the decision of the Prime Minister-led selection committee “very, very hasty”.
Justice Patnaik had pointed out that “there was no evidence against Verma regarding corruption”.
“The entire enquiry was held on (CBI special director Rakesh) Asthana’s complaint. I have said in my report that none of the findings in the CVC’s report are mine,” the judge, who submitted his own report to the Supreme Court, said.
He had added, “Even if the Supreme Court said that the high-power committee must decide, the decision was very, very hasty. We are dealing with an institution here. They should have applied their mind thoroughly, especially as a Supreme Court judge was there. What the CVC says cannot be the final word.”