New Delhi: The government's decision to remove feuding CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana is based on the CVC's recommendations, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Wednesday, asserting that it is absolutely essential to restore the agency's institutional integrity and credibility.
A Special Investigation Team will look into the charges and both officers will "sit out" the duration of the probe, he said, adding that they have been sent on leave as an interim measure.
It is up to the probe agency or the Central Vigilance Commission, which has superintendence over it in cases of corruption, to constitute the probe team, the minister told reporters.
The CVC, which received details of the charges both officers had levelled against each other, made its recommendations last evening as an "accused or potential accused" cannot be allowed to be in charge of investigation against them, Jaitley said.
The government has no role in it, he added.
Taking questions from the media during the Cabinet briefing, Jaitley said allegations by the top two officers of the country's premier investigation agency led to a "bizarre and unfortunate" situation.
He said he would not get into the merits of the charges against the two officers.
"To maintain the institutional integrity of the CBI and in the interest of fairness, they will sit out and go on leave as an interim measure so that the SIT does not function under the officers under investigation. It is in accordance with the highest standards," Jaitley asserted.
He also dismissed as "rubbish" allegations by opposition parties, including the Congress, that Verma was removed because he was to look into the Rafale fighter jet deal.
"I regard this charge as rubbish. The fact that opposition parties are saying we know what agency was going to do next itself casts a doubt on the fairness process. I don't believe what they are saying is true, but if they did have access to what was going on in the mind a person that itself demolishes the integrity of the person they are trying to support," he said.
The government's order sending the two officers on leave and giving the director's charge to a joint director, he said, is only to give effect to the recommendation of the CVC.
"There are allegations against the two topmost officers. Who will probe them? The requirements of fairness and fair play have to be there. It does not fall under the government's domain. The government cannot probe it and will not do it," he said.
It is important for every person - not only the government, citizens but also the opposition -- that the fairness of the country's principal investigation agencies is maintained, Jaitley said.
It is not only to ensure that the CBI's probe into matters confined to the country is fair. The government can also not afford for fugitives and the "worst forms of fraudsters" living outside the country and facing charges in India to raise fingers at the agency, he said.
"The CBI is our premier investigative agency. And the maintenance of its institutional integrity is absolutely essential," he said.
Hitting back at opposition parties, he asked if they wanted either of the two officers facing allegations to be supervising probes against them. Nothing can be more unfair in the world, he said.
The government is committed to ensure that the CBI does not become a "mockery" as some officers have attempted to do, he asserted.
Responding to a question that the government wanted to defend Asthana as he is a "blue-eyed boy" of the Prime Minister's Office, Jaitley said what matters is the quality of evidence, not who is "blue-eyed or red-eyed".
As an interim measure, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given charge of the CBI to Joint Director M Nageswar Rao, an Odisha-cadre officer, with immediate effect, a government order said.