#CBIvsCBI: Verma, Asthana were 'fighting like cats', Centre tells SC
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court resumed the hearing of CBI Director Alok Verma's plea challenging the government's decision to divest him of his powers in light on an ongoing row between him and CBI second-in-command Rakesh Asthana. Representing the Centre, Attorney General KK Venugopal said that the public feud between the two was eroding public confidence in the CBI, and hence Verma was divested.
"Government of India was watching with amazement as to what the top officers [Verma and Asthana] were doing, they were fighting like cats," the Attorney General told the Supreme Court during the hearing, as reported by news agency PTI.
Explaining the Centre's decision to divest Verma of his powers, AG Venugopal added that the "main aim" of the government was to ensure that the CBI, a "premier institution", had the confidence of the public. He said that the "extraordinary situation" that had arisen in light of the feud between the CBI's top officials, had forced the government's hand.
In last week's hearing, AG Venugopal had told the SC that the Centre had the power to appoint a new CBI Director. Venugopal's statement came as a reply to lawyer Kapil Sibal, who was representing the Leader of the Opposition. Sibal had said that only a selection committee chaired by the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, and Leader of Opposition had such powers.
Verma had been divested of his powers on October 23. However, in his plea, he claimed that the divestment amounted to a transfer, and that the Centre's decision to divest him based on the Central Vigilance Commission's (CVC) recommendations did not have a legal basis. Meanwhile, the SC has said that it is only interested in examining the legal validity of the move.
The cracks in the CBI command started to show in October 2017 when Director Alok Verma objected to the appointment of Rakesh Asthana as second-in-command, alleging corruption on Asthana's part in connection to the Sterling Biotech case. However, the CVC, which supervises the CBI's functioning, cleared Asthana's appointment. In October 2018, the CBI levelled bribery charges against Asthana, while Asthana accused Verma of corruption.
Verma had initially alleged that Asthana had been paid Rs. 3.88cr in connection with the Sterling Biotech case. While filing charges against Asthana, the CBI then alleged that Rs. 3cr had been paid to the Special Director as bribes. Asthana, on his part, complained to the Cabinet Secretary, listing over a dozen charges against Verma, including charges of bribery in the Moin Qureshi case.
With the feud escalating, the Centre, in an unprecedented move, removed Verma and Asthana from duty and sent them on leave on October 23. The following day, Verma challenged his removal at the Supreme Court, which sent notices to both the Central government and the CVC. Another accused in the Asthana bribery case, CBI DSP Devender Kumar, was arrested.