Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi recused himself from hearing a plea challenging M Nageswara Rao’s appointment as Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) interim director. The Supreme Court deferred the hearing to 24 January.

CJI Gogoi also sought transparency in the process of shortlisting, selection and appointment of the CBI Director.

He said that he is a member of the Selection Committee to pick new CBI Director.

On 24 January, the plea will be heard by a new bench. On the same day the Selection Committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will reportedly meet to appoint the new CBI director.

NGO Common Cause had challenged the Centre’s 10 January order appointing Rao as the interim CBI director.

The matter was mentioned for urgent listing before a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on 16 January. The bench also comprised Justice LN Rao and Justice SK Kaul.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, had urged the Bench to hear the plea on Friday, 18 January. Chief Justice Gogoi reportedly told Bhushan that it was “definitely not possible” to hear the matter on Friday and that the plea would be heard next week.

Rao, CBI’s additional director, was given the charge of the agency’s interim chief on 10 January until the appointment of a new CBI director after the Selection Committee removed incumbent CBI director Alok Verma on alleged charges of corruption and dereliction of duty.

The NGO’s petition has reportedly sought laying down of specific mechanisms to ensure transparency in the process of the CBI director’s appointment. It has pointed out that Rao’s appointment was not made on the basis of recommendations of the Selection Committee which also comprises CJI or an apex court judge nominated by him, and leader of the single largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

The plea stated that the Centre’s 23 October 2018 order appointing Rao as the acting CBI director was quashed by the apex court on 8 January, 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 (DSPE) Act two day later.

The petition has sought a direction to the Centre to appoint a regular CBI director forthwith by following the procedure laid down in accordance with the provisions of the DSPE Act, as amended by the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.

The plea has also sought a direction to the Centre to ensure that “all records of deliberations and rational criteria related to short-listing and selection of the director, CBI, be properly recorded and made available to citizens in consonance with the provisions of the RTI Act”.

Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the principal Opposition Congress in the Lok Sabha who is also a member of the Selection Committee, has termed as “illegal” Rao’s appointment as the CBI’s interim head. In a recent letter to PM Modi, Kharge has demanded that a meeting of the selection panel be urgently convened to appoint the new CBI director.