Reiterating its stand that public interest was paramount, the central government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it had intervened in the infighting between Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana to ensure that nation’s confidence in the probe agency did not fade.
“Government’s intervention was to protect the public confidence in CBI, which was getting negative in view of the serious fight between two of its top officials. Government intervention was in public interest,” Attorney General K K Venugopal told a three judge bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph.
The top court was hearing on-leave CBI Director Alok Verma’s appeal against the central government’s order divesting him of powers following allegations of bribery against him and his deputy and Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
Senior lawyer Fali S Nariman, appearing for Verma, told the court that Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) had no power to send the CBI Director on leave and that for a period of two years, he could not be transferred.
It also heard Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s petition challenging government’s move to send Verma on leave.
Appearing for Kharge, senior lawyer Kapil Sibal said that the power to remove the CBI chief rested only with the selection committee and that there were “no exceptions” to it.
“If the power to appoint is with the committee, the power to remove is also with the committee” Sibal said, adding that if the CBI director could be removed from his position, the next time it could be the CVC or any other top official.
The three-member selection committee comprises of the Prime Minister as the chairperson, Chief Justice of India, and Leader of Opposition or the leader of the single largest party in opposition.
The infighting between Verma and Asthana snowballed about a month ago when CBI booked Asthana on allegations of receiving bribe from an accused probed by him in a case linked to meat exporter Moin Qureshi. Asthana later wrote to the CVC stating that he was being framed and that the bribe was actually meant for Verma and not him. The Prime Minister’s Office later summoned both the officers in a bid to douse the fire and salvage the credibility of the agency.
After the CVC sent both Verma and Asthana on leave, and transferred several other officers from both the camps, the two officers approached the Supreme Court against their removal. The court will next hear the matter on December 5.