Why Was Selection Panel Not Consulted, Top Court Asks On Exiled CBI Chief

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The Supreme Court is hearing Alok Verma's petition against the government's action. (File)

New Delhi:

The government today confronted questions in the Supreme Court over its sudden, overnight order to send the CBI's top two Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana on leave after "tolerating" their fight since July.

Yesterday, the government's lawyer, KK Venugopal, had told the judges that extraordinary circumstances led to the decision, since the two officers had been fighting for months like "cats".

The court questioned the haste to take the step without consulting a selection committee, as is the rule for any action against the CBI chief.

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"If you had tolerated since July, it is not something that required immediate action as the circumstances were culminating for a long time," Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi told the Central Vigilance Commission.

The top vigilance body's lawyer replied that "situations may arise which is not provided in law and authority has to address surprise situations. The CVC will become toothless if it doesn't act."

Yesterday, the government told the Supreme Court that it was forced to strip CBI chief Alok Verma of his powers "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 Kilkenny 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 compulsory leave.

The Supreme Court is hearing Alok Verma's petition against the government's action and his response to a vigilance report on him. His lawyer Fali Nariman has argued that the government's order stripping him of charges has no basis, that the CBI director can be removed only with the approval of a committee.

The case is centered on corruption charges swapped by Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana.

The CBI Director has been accused by Mr Asthana of taking bribe from a Hyderabad-based businessman being investigated by the agency. Mr Verma has accused Mr Asthana of the same crime.

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