Explaining to the Supreme Court why it had taken the decision to send CBI Director Alok Verma on leave, the government on Wednesday said it was very concerned on what was happening, as two senior-most officers were “fighting like cats in public”.

“The fight between Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana was becoming critical and matter of public debate. The Government of India was watching with amazement as to what the top officers were doing; they were fighting like cats,” the government argued.

The government asserted that it was forced to strip Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana of their duties and send them on leave “in the larger public interest to ensure institutional integrity”.

Maintaining that the integrity of the CBI was at stake, the counsel appearing for the Centre, AG KK Venugopal said, “Government’s action was necessary to restore public confidence in CBI and that a situation had arisen where the Centre had to intervene”.

He further stated that only after careful examination of the issue, the Centre had taken the decision to divest Alok Verma of his power.

On being asked by the court if there was any evidence of CBI chief Alok Verma going public about the infighting, the Attorney General produced newspaper clippings to substantiate the claim.

KK Venugopal further told the Supreme Court that the action against Verma did not amount to transfer and that only his functions have been withdrawn.

The apex court is hearing Verma’s plea against the government for divesting him of his duties and sending him on leave following an ongoing spat between the top officials.

Earlier, last week, CBI Director Alok Verma had told the Supreme Court that he was appointed for a fixed tenure of two years and cannot even be transferred.

Read | Appointed for fixed term of 2 yrs, can’t even be transferred: Alok Verma to SC on forced leave

Challenging the government’s decision, his counsel and senior advocate Fali S Nariman said Verma was appointed on February 1, 2017, and “the position of law is that there will be a fixed tenure of two years and this gentleman cannot be even transferred”.

In an unprecedented move, the Central Bureau of Investigation divested Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana from their duties on Wednesday as the two hit out at each other over bribery accusations in the meat exporter Moin Qureshi money laundering case.