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I wish and pray Justice Sikri goes back to the pavilion with his reputation intact and a future secure
It is reassuring that Justice AK Sikri, the second senior-most Judge of the Supreme Court, has turned down an offer made by the Central government one month ago of a part-time assignment in London.

However, before taking up the issue of his decision to cast his vote against Alok Varma, I would love to recall a judicial incident on 13.09.2004 when in Madhya Pradesh, a District and Sessions Judge Mr RC Chandel was compulsorily retired from the service in the public interest by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. The order of compulsory retirement was issued by the Government in exercise of its power under amended Rule 56(2)(a) of the Fundamental Rules, as made applicable in the State of Madhya Pradesh, Rule 14 of the Madhya Pradesh Higher Judicial Service (Recruitment and Service Conditions) Rules, 1994 (for short, '1994 Rules'). In lieu of notice of three months, it was directed in the order that the Judge shall be entitled to three months' salary and allowances which he was receiving prior to his retirement. The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice RM Lodha and Justice Anil R Dave had observed that like Caesar's wife, a judge must be above suspicion. The Supreme Court did uphold the Madhya Pradesh government's decision to compulsorily retire a district and sessions judge for unsatisfactory performance.

"The standard of conduct expected of a judge is much higher than an ordinary man. This is no excuse that since the standards in the society have fallen, the judges who are drawn from the society cannot be expected to have high standards and ethical firmness required of a judge. A judge, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion. The credibility of the judicial system is dependent upon the judges who man it. For a democracy to thrive and rule of law to survive, justice system and the judicial process have to be strong and every judge must discharge his judicial functions with integrity, impartiality and intellectual honesty," said Justice Lodha, writing the judgment for the bench.

For a common person, the above observations are the beacons to make up his mind what is expected from a Judge. Now, coming back to the case of CBI vs CBI, in a dramatic midnight action, the Union Government on October 23, 2018 had removed CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana. While divesting Director Alok Verma of his charge, the government and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) cited that Verma had not been cooperating with the CVC's inquiry into allegations made by Asthana against him through a letter on August 24 to the Cabinet Secretary. Alok Verma was appointed as CBI Director in 2016 for two years and his tenure ends in December 2018. The decision was announced by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC). The decision came after the on-going tussle between CBI Chief Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana escalated over bribery allegations, hurled at each other.

Following his removal, Alok Varma had approached the Supreme Court on October 24, 2018 and the Supreme Court on 8th January 2019, set aside the Centre's October 23 decision divesting CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma of his powers and sending him on leave. The top court reinstated Verma but restrained him from taking any major policy decision till the Central Vigilance Commission inquiry into corruption charges against him is over. The court said a meeting of the high-powered committee, which comprises the PM, the leader of opposition and the CJI, will be called this week to take the decision on the basis of the findings of the CVC inquiry into the corruption allegations against Mr Verma.

The high-powered selection committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi hurriedly decided 2-1 to remove Alok Verma as the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), two days after the Supreme Court reinstated him in the position with some riders. Mr Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Congress, the largest Opposition party, in the Lok Sabha disagreed with the move and gave a note of dissent. In the decisive vote of the third member of the panel, Supreme Court judge Justice A K Sikri, who was nominated by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to represent him, appeared to have agreed with the Government's view in the matter.

"Shri Alok Kumar Verma, IPS(AGMU:79) is transferred from the post of Director, CBI and posted as Director General, Fire Services, Civil Defence & Home Guards for the residual period of his present term ending on 31.01.2019. As per the earlier arrangement, Shri M. Nageshwar Rao, IPS(OD:86), Additional Director, CBI, will look after the duties of the Director, CBI till the appointment of a new Director, CBI, or until further orders, whichever is earlier," a notification from the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) said.

This scribe has always held the retired Justice Markandey Katju in high esteem. According to him Justice Sikri would not have taken the decision without "strong material on record" against Verma. He, on a Facebook post, cited his telephonic conversation with Justice Sikri in response to questions being raised over why the high-power committee did not call Verma for a hearing before taking the decision to remove him as the agency's chief.

Another rabble-rouser, BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramnaian Swamy, on Thursday, said the government cannot remove CBI Director Alok Verma on the basis of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) report without hearing him and felt if he is removed the problem would only "get worse, not better". "They cannot remove Verma on the basis of the CVC report without hearing him," he told reporters outside the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters after meeting Verma.

I'm not including any comments by Congress Party or other Opposition leaders here.

It is interesting to note that the removal of Alok Verma as CBI Director has raked up fresh controversy with a section demanding that a former judge's report was not considered while a high-powered panel took the decision. Justice A K Patnaik, who supervised the CVC probe, suggested that corruption charges against Alok Verma could not be proved. Sources said Verma had also written to Justice Patnaik claiming that Central Vigilance Commissioner K V Chowdary approached him with a plea to withdraw remarks made against CBI Additional Director Rakesh Asthana and assured him that he would not face any problem if he did so. 

On 13th Jan 2019, the nation was enlightened with the following news:

"Supreme Court judge AK Sikri, who voted with the government in the three-member committee to remove CBI Director Alok Verma, is understood to have been nominated to the post of President/Member of the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT).

Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs said the decision regarding Sikri's nomination was made last month in view of his retirement on March 6, 2019, from the Supreme Court."

And there is another surprise announcement just now that made the situation piquant. Justice Sikri is learnt to have written to the Law Ministry Sunday evening to formally turn down the offer. The government had contacted Justice Sikri in the first week of December last year to inform him about the CSAT vacancy and subsequently took his concurrence to be nominated as a member of the eight-member body.

This scribe is not competent to comment upon all these tectonic developments as most of them are related to Custodians and Interpreters of Law themselves. However, it is a sad commentary upon the present state of our nation.

No one could predict who follows next. My guess would be as faulty or accurate as any other Indian whose feelings are hurt.

Justice Sikri is scheduled to retire from the Supreme Court on March 6, 2019. I wish and pray he goes back to the pavilion with his reputation intact and a future secure.

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