The fight between two top officers of the CBI -- Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana -- in public exposed the premier probe agency to "ridicule", said Centre on Wednesday in Supreme Court.
"Two top officers, Alok Kumar Verma and Rakesh Asthana, were fighting against each other and went public which exposed CBI to ridicule," AG KK Venugopal told the bench and added, “The fight between Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana was becoming critical and matter of public debate. Govt of India was watching with amazement as to what the top officers were doing, they were fighting like cats."
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"Govt’s action was necessary to restore public confidence in CBI and a situation had arisen where centre had to intervene. After careful examination of the issue centre was satisfied and took decision that CBI director Alok Verma be divested of his power," he said.
Attorney General K K Venugopal told a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that the fight between the two officers impacted the image of the CBI. The Centre's main aim was to see that confidence of the public in this premier institution is restored, he said.
"The action against CBI director Alok Verma does not amount to transfer and only his functions have been withdrawn," he clarified.
He also submitted that the Centre acted within its jurisdiction on complaints made in July and October this year.
"If the government had not done so, only God knows where and how this fight between the two top officers would have ended," Venugopal told the bench.
The Attorney General concluded his arguments and now Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), has started making the submissions.
The Centre had perused the report of the CVC, which on Asthana's complaint against Verma had made some recommendations. After that the two officers were sent on leave.
Later, the apex court had directed the CVC to probe the complaint against Verma. The report was submitted to the court in a sealed cover. After a brief submission by Mehta, the apex court concluded the day's hearing and posted the matter for further arguments for Thursday.
The apex court on Nov 29 had said it would first consider whether the government has the power to divest the CBI director of his duties under whatever circumstances or whether the selection committee headed by the Prime Minister should have been approached before moving against Verma on corruption allegations against him.
The court had taken this stand after making it clear that for now it was not going into the allegations and counter-allegations involving Verma and CBI's No.2 officer Asthana, both of whom have been stripped of their powers and sent on leave following their bitter feud.
Verma's two-year tenure ends on January 31. He has challenged the Centre's decision.
(With inputs from agencies)