The central government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it was forced to send CBI director Alok Verma on leave because the image of the investigative agency was taking a beating due to the fight between two top officers and not because of the corruption complaint against him.
Slamming both Verma and special CBI director Rakesh Asthana, Attorney General KK Venugopal said the government watched with amazement as the two "fought like Kilkenny cats" - two cats who fought to the death and ate each other up such that only their tails were left.
“After carefully examining material made available to Centre and after careful consideration of the issues, Centre was satisfied that a situation had arisen wherein Centre had to take action to divest Alok Verma,” he told the apex court, adding that only god knows how the fight would have ended if allowed to continue.
“Our objective was to ensure that public confidence in the institution is not eroded, so both officers were sent on leave,” he added.
A bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has been hearing the petition filed by Verma for the last one month. The CBI director had challenged his ouster on the grounds that he has a fixed two-year tenure that the government can't curtail.
His lawyer Fali Nariman has argued that the government's order stripping him of charges had no basis, that the CBI director can be removed only with the approval of a committee that also includes the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice.
But the Attorney General argued on Wednesday that the two officers cannot be understood to have been transferred.
"You ask anybody who is the CBI director and they will say Mr Alok Verma. You ask them who is the special director and they say Mr Rakesh Asthana." He also told the court that the Centre is the appointing authority of the CBI director and has the power of superintendence over the agency.
The case is centered on corruption charges levelled by two top officers of CBI against each other. The CBI Director has been accused by his deputy Rakesh Asthana of taking bribe from a Hyderabad-based businessman being investigated by the agency. Verma has accused Mr Asthana of the same crime.
As the CBI's top two accused each other of corruption, they were both sent on forced leave and several officers investigating Asthana were transferred on the night of October 23. The Centre's lawyer said both the officers were divested of their powers and they continue have all perks.
But curiously, the court proceedings appear to be incertitude, lacking definiteness in its approach and direction. And the clock is certainly ticking for Verma, who is set to retire in February first week
The court has oscillated between wanting to argue on points of law and the corruption charges against Verma and has made little progress in either domain. After wanting to consider the CVC report on the corruption allegations against Verma, the bench had changed track abruptly at the last date of hearing on the legality of the Centre’s decision.