Supreme Court judge AK Sikri has withdrawn his consent for appointment to the post of president of the of the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal offered by the Centre, Bar & Bench reported on Sunday. Unidentified officials said Sikri has told authorities not to process the matter further.
Sikri was a member of the Selection Committee, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, that voted in favour of sacking Central Bureau of Investigation Director Verma on January 10. Kharge submitted a note of dissent against the decision. Sikri attended the meeting after Chief Justice of India recused himself.
According to The Indian Express, Sikri reportedly wrote to the Law Ministry on Sunday evening to formally turn down the offer. This came hours after The Print reported that the Narendra Modi government had nominated the judge to the post. The Wire, quoting unidentified officials in the Ministry of External Affairs, said the decision to nominate Sikri was taken in November, while The Print reported that the decision was taken “at the highest levels” the following month.
At the time the government took the decision, the Supreme Court had started hearing Verma’s petition challenging the Centre’s decision to relieve him of duties. The Centre had also sent his deputy Rakesh Asthana on forced leave after the two officers publicly accused each other of corruption.
The day after the selection panel’s decision, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju claimed that Sikri said the Central Vigilance Commission had recorded “prima facie findings of guilt on some serious charges against Verma”. However, Justice AK Patnaik, the former Supreme Court judge assigned to supervise the Central Vigilance Commission inquiry against the CBI Director, on Saturday said there was “no evidence of corruption” against Verma.
The tribunal is the final arbiter of disputes between its 53 member-countries. It has eight members selected by the governments of member nations. Members of the tribunal are appointed for a four-year term, which may be renewed for an additional term. Sikri, who is the most senior in the top court after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, was expected to join the tribunal after his retirement on March 6.
According to The Wire, the South Block received the confirmation from the Commonwealth Secretariat, to which the tribunal is attached, “a few days ago”.
An unidentified official in the Supreme Court told The Print that Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had written to Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi in December informing him of the Ministry of External Affairs’ decision to nominate Sikri to the post and sought Gogoi’s consent. Gogoi reportedly gave his consent after checking with Sikri.
When asked if the government had requested the chief justice to nominate a judge or if it had unilaterally chosen Sikri, the official told the news website: “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.”