THE CONTROVERSY regarding the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation A K Verma had an unexpected fallout in the resignation of Justice A K Sikri from a post-retirement job. The judge, who is due for retirement in March, has maintained the highest standards of morality by declining the offer to uphold the principle that Justice should not only be done but also seen to be done.
While no one had any doubt over the high integrity of Justice Sikri (in pic
), the entire episode has focused attention on the question on post retirement jobs for people in high and independent public offices. It has revived the demand that there should be a mandatory provision of cooling off period, or a ban on appointment by government, for at least two years after the retirement.
Justice Sikri, to be fair to him, came into the focus of the controversy quite unfairly. He was offered a part time post as member of London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT) in December last year. That too after the approval of the then Chief Justice of India. The post did not entail full time stay in the Tribunal’s headquarters in London but provided for arbitrations from time to time. It was no means a lucrative post or a post with which the government of India could have benefited in any way.
The controversy has revived the demand that there should be a mandatory provision of cooling off period, or a ban on appointment by government, for at least two years after the retirement.
It is also a fact that there was no indication of Justice Sikri getting involved in the CBI director’s case which came up after a subsequent judgment of the Supreme Court. He was incidentally nominated as the representative of the Chief Justice to the panel because he was the senior most judge after him.
The decision of the panel, which also included the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, to remove CBI Director Alok Verma, had led the opposition to criticise the decision. It was then that a news report came out which pointed out to the fact that Justice Sikri had been nominated by the government for a commonwealth post. The report did not directly allege any relation between offer to Justice Sikri and his decision to side with the prime minister’s stand, but the insinuation was clear that Justice Sikri had taken the stand in return of the ‘favour’ granted by the government. It was unfair to link the two. Although the reporter said it was just to bring the facts of the case, the motive of writing the story was obvious.
Justice Sikri had little choice but to resign as his accepting the post had come under a controversy.
The larger question that has arisen is whether all senior posts must have a mandatory clause that the officers would not accept any public or private office for at least two years post retirement. All these posts already provide for handsome pensions and other benefits. Such lack of opportunities or possibilities would keep them away from attempting to please the government of the day in order to gain a post retirement post.
There is also a view that the ban would deprive use of talent at an age when the person concerned is in good mental and physical health and is capable of benefiting the society. The retirement age in most jobs in the country is much lesser than the provisions in several other countries. In the United States of America, for instance, judges are permitted and encouraged to be on the bench till they think they can serve. Many other western countries leave it to the judgment of the person concerned to continue to work till he or she is mentally and physically sound.
There is also a view that the ban would deprive use of talent at an age when the person concerned is in good mental and physical health and is capable of benefiting the society.
It may be difficult to do so in India which had a large population of unemployed but it is time to increase the retirement age in some of the high skilled jobs.
However the decisions to offer posts to selective persons need to be curbed. Possibly a way out could be to set up an independent committee of eminent persons with a reputation of high integrity to discus and decide on selective appointments. Such a committee should be above the influence of the government of the day. A mechanism could be put in place for the constitution of the committee without any kind of political pressure from the government. It would not be an easy task but it appears to be the only way to ensure making use of skills and keeping the government at a distance from taking such decisions.
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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