Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 5
The Centre today defended before the Supreme Court its decision to divest CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana of their powers and send them on leave, saying the public fight between the two top CBI officers made the probe agency a subject of ridicule.
“Dispute between CBI Director and Special Director was pulling down the integrity and respect of the premier institution. The two top officers were fighting like Kilkenny cats,” Attorney General KK Venugopal told a three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph.
The AG’s statement came in response to a question by Justice Joseph on whether the Centre had the power to divest the CBI Director of his powers under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Justice Joseph pointed out that Section 4(1) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that governs the CBI says that in corruption cases, the Central Vigilance Commission will have superintendence over CBI, while Section 4(2) says that the Centre will have power of superintendence in all other matters. He wondered if the Centre could also divest him of powers under the PC Act.
He has been immobilised and divested of all powers for now, Venugopal said, requesting the Bench to look at the Centre’s order as a whole. Verma — who is due to retire on January 31 — and Asthana have been at loggerheads for quite some time. They were sent on leave last month and both have filed separate petitions challenging the government’s decision.
Noting that the fight created an unprecedented and extraordinary situation and the Government was watching with “amazement” as to what these two officers were doing, Venugopal said in such a situation it was “absolutely essential” for the Centre to step in. “If the government had not done so, only God knows where and how this fight between the two top officers would have ended,” the Attorney General said.
On behalf of the CVC, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta commenced his arguments but the Bench rose for the day within a few minutes. The Bench — which is seized of petitions filed by Verma and Asthana against the Centre’s decision to divest them of their powers and send them on leave — posted the matter for further hearing on Thursday. CBI officers AK Bassi and Manish Kumar Sinha have challenged the government’s decision to transfer them to Port Blair and Nagpur, respectively.
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