CBI top officers were fighting like 'kilkenny cats', says attorney general Venugopal

CBI chief Alok Verma.  Photograph:( Twitter )

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Dec 05, 2018, 04.54 PM (IST) Jessica Taneja

The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that 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.

The observation was made by Attorney General KK Venugopal during a hearing on CBI chief Alok Verma's plea challenging the government's decision which had divested him of all duties and sent him on leave.

"Dispute between CBI Director and Special Director was pulling down integrity and respect of premier institution," he told the bench.

"Two top officers, Alok Kumar Verma and Rakesh Asthana, were fighting against each other and went public which exposed CBI to ridicule," Venugopal told the bench.

The Centre's main aim was to see that confidence of the public in this premier institution is restored, he said.

While the Attorney General did acknowledge media had a field day because of the CBI debacle, he submitted in the top court that both top CBI officers did not keep their fight under wraps, hence the central government acted with caution.

At the end of his submission, Attorney General Venugopal gave an interesting analogy and called the CBI spat a "Kilkenny cat" fight.

The use of this term "Kilkenny cat" refers to an old story about two cats who fought to the death and ate each after which only their tails were left, drew a lot of attention in the top court.

In the previous hearing, senior advocate Fali S Nariman had told the top court that Verma was appointed on February 1, 2017, and "the position of law is that there will be a fixed tenure of two years and this gentleman cannot be even transferred".

The advocate said there was no basis for the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to pass such an order recommending to send him on leave.

In response to Verma's lawyer, the Attorney General submitted that "after carefully examining the material made available and after careful consideration of the issue, Centre was satisfied that a situation had arisen wherein Centre had to take action to divest him."

While the court is yet to hear Asthana's plea, the hearing of Verma's plea seems to have expedited the case and ASG Tushar Mehta will continue arguing for the CVC on Thursday morning.

The apex court had on November 29 said that 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.