Alok Verma has been accused by Rakesh Asthana of taking bribe from a businessman being probed by the CBI.
The dispute between the CBI's top two eroded public confidence, the government told the Supreme Court today, asserting it was forced to strip CBI chief Alok Verma "in larger public interest to ensure institutional integrity".
"The government of India was watching with amazement as to what these two officers were doing, they were fighting like cats… Extraordinary situation made centre act and divest Alok Verma of his powers till the Chief Vigilance Commission takes a decision," Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court, reading from the late night government order sending the CBI chief on forced leave.
"The CVC took his own decision – the centre was concerned with the happenings in the CBI and two tough officers tightening against each other. CVC has to decide who is right and wrong," the centre's lawyer said, adding that the CBI's top two went public.
"TV channels had a field day and CBI became an object of ridicule," said Mr Venugopal.
The Supreme Court is hearing Alok Verma's petition against forced leave and his response to a vigilance report on him. His lawyer Fali Nariman has argued that the government's order stripping him of charges had no basis, that the CBI director can be removed only with the approval of a committee.
The Supreme Court had refused to take up the case in the previous hearing on November 20, furious over leaks to the media.
The case is centred on corruption charges swapped by two bosses of the country's top investigating agency, Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana.
The CBI Director has been accused by his deputy Rakesh Asthana of taking bribe from a Hyderabad-based businessman being investigated by the agency. Mr Verma has accused Mr Asthana of the same crime.
As the CBI's top two accused each other of corruption, they were both sent on forced leave and several officers investigating Mr Asthana were transferred on the night of October 23.
The centre's lawyer said both the officers were divested of their powers and they continue have all perks.