Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was defending the Centre's decision in the Supreme Court over sending Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma on leave, has said that the dispute between the CBI Director and Special Director Rakesh Asthana was tarnishing the reputation of the institution. He added that both the top officials of the investigating agency were "fighting like cats."
"The fight between Verma and Asthana was becoming critical and matter of public debate. The Government of India was watching with amazement as to what the top officers were doing. They were fighting like cats," the Attorney General told the apex court.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday began hearing a petition filed by Verma against the Central government's decision to send him on leave in view of the allegations of corruption against him.
The Attorney General told the apex court that the Centre's action was necessary to restore public confidence in the institution of the CBI as the situation needed the Centre's intervention. He added: "After careful consideration and examination of the issue, the Central government was satisfied and took the decision to divest CBI Director Alok Verma of his power."
The action against CBI director Alok Verma does not amount to transfer and only his functions have been withdrawn, the Attorney General clarified. "It is well settled that transfer is a change from one station to another and Verma is retaining his designation, bungalow, and benefits," he added.
The Attorney General told the apex court that the Centre divested both the Director and Special Director of their respective powers due to their public spat. Defending the Centre, he further said that the Centre acted in its jurisdiction and it had acted the way it should have. It was essential for the government of India to step in. The Attorney General said that Verma has been divested of all powers, function, and duties supervisory role in any manner.
"As far as the Government of India is concerned, it acted within the jurisdiction. If it would not have done so, the only god knows where this spat between the top officers may have ended. It was essential for the Government of India to step in," Attorney General Venugopal further said.
The Attorney General told the apex court: "The Central government was very concerned about what was happening in the CBI because two senior-most officers were fighting in public. The Government and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had to take a decision on who is right and who is wrong. The CBI itself was ridiculed."
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the CVC told the apex court that the commission shall be responsible for the efficient functioning of the CBI. The investigative agency shall report to the CVC.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph, was hearing the petition, challenging the validity of CBI Director Alok Verma being sent on leave by the Centre.
Verma had filed a petition in the apex court challenging the decision of the Central government to send him on leave. Verma is being represented by senior lawyer Fali S Nariman. Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress leader, has also challenged the order and is being represented by Kapil Sibal.
The Central government recently sent Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana on leave after both levelled allegations of accepting bribes against each other. However, the CBI on October 25 informed that Verma and Asthana would continue to remain as CBI Director and Special Director, respectively.
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