The Supreme Court put the UPA government in a spot on Friday by questioning the continuance of telecommunications minister A Raja in the cabinet.
Raja is at the centre of an alleged multi-crore scam in the allocation of 2G spectrum to telecom operators in 2008.
The court, which is hearing a public interest litigation in the matter, also pulled up the CBI for the slow pace of its investigation into the scam.
"You (CBI) have not done anything. The matter is serious. The same minister is still continuing today. Is this the way the government functions? Do you follow the same standards in respect of everyone? One year has gone by," a bench headed by Justice G S Singhvi said.
The Congress was guarded in its reaction. Party leaders said that a final decision on whether or not Raja, who belongs to the DMK, would continue in the cabinet rested upon Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and DMK boss, M Karunanidhi.
There have been demands for Raja's sacking ever since the scandal broke. The matter has been discussed at the highest levels earlier too, but the DMK always insisted on Raja continuing in the cabinet, Congress sources said.
"You don't choose the ministers who represent your coalition partners in the cabinet. It remains the prerogative of the bosses of the allied parties. This is the reality of the coalition politics," said a senior Congress leader.
Karunanidhi is learnt to have also used the fact that Raja is a Dalit to insist upon his remaining in the cabinet. Removing him might cost Dalit support, Karunanidhi has argued.
"If necessary I can quit, but where is the necessity?" Raja, when asked for his reaction, told NDTV.
The SC observations will provide ammunition to the Opposition to corner the government.
The court also claimed the CBI's probe had been half hearted.
"It's slipshod. You are dragging your feet," the bench told the government lawyer.
The court asked the government to respond to the draft reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General according to which the scam caused a loss of Rs 1.4 lakh crore to the government.
The next hearing is on November 15.