Fight didn’t emerge overnight: Supreme Court questions Centre’s action against CBI boss Alok Verma
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to explain its midnight action against CBI chief Alok Verma, underlining that the government appeared to have tolerated the feud between Alok Verma and his deputy that had been going on for months.
“This situation that prompted the Central Vigilance Commission to take the action did not happen overnight... It is not that you were forced to take decision immediately,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi observed.
The internecine fight between the two officers, Alok Verma and the CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, had roiled the agency and forced the government to divest both of their powers on October 23.
Alok Verma, who had challenged his removal, had contended that the action against him amounted to a transfer, which could not be done without the approval of Prime Minister-led high-powered panel that appoints the CBI director. The leader of the largest party in Opposition and the CJI are the other members of this committee.
The Supreme Court had yesterday heard the Centre argue that sending Alok Verma and his deputy on leave did not amount to a transfer. Attorney General KC Venugopal had also argued that it was compelled to intervene since the two officers, Alok Verma and CBI No. 2 Rakesh Asthana, were fighting like cats.
“This seriously affected government and it had to act to put an end to this”, the Centre’s top law officer KC Venugopal pleaded in court yesterday. He also argued that the trust of people in the agency was being reduced due to the allegations against the CBI director.
When the Supreme Court resumed the hearing today, the judges had some questions for the government.
“If you have two courses of action - acceptable and more acceptable – you must take the more acceptable course,” Chief Justice Gogoi said. He stressed that a transfer should not be understood in a very literal sense.
“What is the difficulty in convening the selection committee? If you want to do something like divesting powers, it is better to consult the screening committee,” he said.
Tushar Mehta, the government’s second most-senior law officer, said the top officers of CBI, “instead of investigating cases, were investigating cases against each other”. Mehta is representing the Central Vigilance Commission that formally recommended stripping Alok Verma of his powers and defended the action taken against Verma and Asthana.
Mehta, explaining the urgency that necessitated an immediate intervention, said the CVC had “come to the conclusion that an extraordinary situation had arisen and that extraordinary situations sometimes need extraordinary remedies”.