New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday deferred hearing a plea seeking a probe against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allegedly receiving payments from the Sahara and the Aditya Birla groups.
The court’s decision came after advocate Prashant Bhushan questioned if justice J.S. Khehar could hear the case while awaiting his appointment as the next chief justice of India.
“This is unfair and in bad taste to make a remark like this. You cannot raise such a question in the third hearing," said justice Khehar, offering to recuse himself from hearing the case.
Common Cause, a non-profit organization led by Bhushan had moved the apex court in a public interest litigation seeking a probe by a court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the allegations. The allegations against Modi were made on the basis of material purportedly seized during searches by the income tax department at the offices of the two companies in 2013. Modi was then chief minister of Gujarat.
In two earlier hearings on 25 November and 14 December, a bench led by justices Khehar and Arun Mishra had indicated that the plea could be dismissed as insufficient evidence was produced.
“You are making a serious allegation against the Prime Minister in a very non serious way," the judges said on Friday.
Separately, another question was raised in a public interest litigation concerning justice Khehar’s pending elevation.
National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms, a lawyer’s association filed a public interest litigation seeking to appoint justice J. Chelameswar as the next chief justice, overlooking the seniority rule that is currently followed.
Justices Khehar, Dipak Misra, Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi are currently the senior most judges (in that order) tipped to succeed as chief justices.
The case was listed before justice Gogoi who recused himself from hearing the issue. Subsequently, chief justice T.S. Thakur said a fresh bench will be constituted to consider hearing the case.
As per the collegium system of appointment of judges to the higher judiciary, the second senior most judge is recommended by the incumbent chief justice.
On 6 December, chief justice T.S. Thakur wrote to the government recommending justice J.S. Khehar’s name for appointment as the next chief justice of India.
The deadline for government to accept the recommendation is 3 January, before incumbent chief justice Thakur retires.