Attorney General KK Venugopal on Wednesday argued before the Supreme Court that it was “absolutely essential” for the Centre to step in and relieve Central Bureau of Investigation’s Director Alok Verma of his powers and duties to save the public image of the institution.

“Only god knows where the fight would have ended if not for Centre’s intervention,” he submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

On October 23, the Centre relieved both Verma and CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana of their duties after they traded charges of corruption and interference in several cases. They later moved the Supreme Court against the action.

Venugopal said the Centre’s decision to divest Verma of his duties was taken after examining “material made available to the Centre”, reported Bar and Bench. “The central government was very concerned about what was happening in CBI because two top officers were fighting with each other,” Venugopal told the top court. “They did not keep it under the wraps, instead went public with it.”

He said that the infighting in the CBI had created an unprecedented and extraordinary situation, reported The Indian Express. Venugopal said Verma was not transferred, since a transfer would mean a change in place of employment. “To contend that it is in substance and effect a transfer is wholly unjustified,” he said.

Venugopal added that it was “unjustified” to argue that what was done by the Centre amounted to transferring the officer, for which consent from the appointment committee consisting of the prime minister, the chief justice of India and the leader of the Opposition was required. A transfer would, as per precedent set by the Supreme Court, be change of place and post, neither of which has happened in the instant case.

When Justice KM Joseph pointed to a provision in the Delhi Special Police Act and asked whether the Centre could act on complaints involving the Prevention of Corruption Act, Venugopal said the Centre did not deem it fit to separate the complaints according to their nature. “A view in totality was taken,” he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is appearing for the Central Vigilance Commission, told the bench that the commission is entrusted with the responsibility of “superintendence over CBI”. “The only limitation is that in individual cases, it cannot give directions on how a probe should be conducted.”

During the last hearing, Verma’s counsel Fali Nariman told the top court that he cannot be transferred without the approval of the selection committee that appointed him. Venugopal had argued that the Central Vigilance Commission and the Department of Personnel and Training have complete power to oversee the CBI.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph is hearing two petitions – one by Verma and another by non-profit organisation Common Cause – questioning the Centre’s move to send the CBI director on leave on October 23 after his second-in-command Rakesh Asthana accused him of corruption. Verma had moved court the following day.

At the last hearing on November 29, Verma’s counsel Fali Nariman had told the court that the CBI director cannot be transferred without the approval of the selection committee that appointed him. However, Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing on behalf of the Centre, had said that the government had the final say in appointing the CBI chief.

The tussle in the CBI came to light on October 15 after the agency named Asthana in a First Information Report for allegedly accepting a Rs 2-crore bribe to scuttle an investigation against businessman Moin Qureshi, who is accused in multiple corruption cases. Asthana had in turn accused Verma of trying to falsely implicate him and levelled corruption charges against him.