“In 1997, we were not seen as either fighters or winners. Now, 10 years later, from the...
PJ Thomas has been made chief vigilance commissioner despite the apex court questioning his appointment. He is accused in a graft case. But our Attorney General has gone on record saying that “impeccable integrity” is not an eligibility criterion for appointment of the CVC. Go figure
The current CVC of India, PJ Thomas, has been appointed to this post-when allegations of corruption against him have not yet been cleared.
The process of his appointment was itself controversial.
Moneylife has in its possession documents detailing the coronation of Mr Thomas, made available to us by activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who obtained them through the RTI (Right To Information) Act. The documents reveal the bureaucratic approvals leading up to the appointment of Mr Thomas.
On 3rd September, prime minister Manmohan Singh, home minster P Chidambaram and Sushma Swaraj of the BJP (in her capacity as leader of Opposition, Lok Sabha) met to finalise the CVC's appointment. Ms Swaraj disagreed to the appointment of Mr Thomas as CVC, but the detailed proceedings of the same have not been provided to Mr Agrawal, apart from the note recording the Opposition leader's dissent.
On 9th November, the Supreme Court asked the already-beleaguered Centre whether the criterion of being an "outstanding civil servant" was met when Mr Thomas was appointed as CVC.
Now why is Mr Thomas in the eye of a storm? He was secretary, department of telecommunications, during A Raja's now-infamous tenure.
In addition, the Comptroller and Auditor General had exposed a case of palmolein imports into Kerala from Malaysia during the early 1990s; Mr Thomas is an accused in this scandal. It involves the alleged import of this commodity at an exorbitant rate, causing a loss of Rs2 crore to the state exchequer.
On 17th December, the court of the enquiry commissioner and Special Judge (Vigilance) at Thiruvananthapuram will conduct proceedings into the case.
With due respect to the various statutory bodies involved in the appointment of the current CVC, does Mr Thomas fit the bill?
On top of this, the Centre (on 23rd November) defended the selection of the CVC before the Supreme Court (SC) by stating that "impeccable integrity" was not an eligibility criterion for appointment of the CVC.
These words were from Attorney General (AG) GE Vahanvati before an SC bench comprising Chief Justice SH Kapadia and Justices KS Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar.
The AG made this statement after being constantly grilled by the apex bench on how an accused could get the top post of a CVC.
We needn't add anything more. "Impeccable integrity" is not needed if you want to head the topmost corruption watchdog.
The only saving grace is: If we are already plumbing such abysmal moral depths, we just can't sink any deeper.
For the record, according to the official Indian government website (http://cvc.nic.in/CVC_power.htm), following are just a few 'powers and functions' of a CVC.
A CVC has the power:
1) To undertake an inquiry or cause an inquiry or investigation to be made into any transaction in which a public servant working in any organisation, to which the executive control of the Government of India extends, is suspected or alleged to have acted for an improper purpose or in a corrupt manner;
2) To tender independent and impartial advice to the disciplinary and other authorities in disciplinary cases, involving vigilance angle at different stages i.e. investigation, inquiry, appeal, review etc.;
3) To exercise a general check and supervision over vigilance and anti-corruption work in Ministries or Departments of the Govt of India and other organisations to which the executive power of the Union extends.
To cut a long job description short, the CVC has got to ensure that corruption is weeded out of the country.
RBI director, who once scrambled to pay Rs20 lakhs to a hoax caller, was rewarded with promotion to oversee NBFCs!
Putting a lid on officers' scandals is not new to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Last week, Moneylife reported that the blemished track record of Anand Sinha, the deputy govenor designate had been informed to the cabinet secretary and finance minister by an activist.
(http://www.moneylife.in/article/72/11085.html) We now discover that a dangerous lack of judgement on an even major issue of indiscretion has been similarly buried. In fact, the case almost reads like a piece of fiction.
On 18 December 2003, the regional director of the RBI posted at Bhopal received a call from someone who claimed to be the then RBI governor, YV Reddy. (Some say he claimed to be a relative in Bhopal, but that will only make the RBI official's actions worse.) The caller told the regional director (RD) that he urgently needed her to arrange Rs20 lakhs for some payments to be made. The money had to be in cash.
The RD immediately called up some of her deputies and rushed around trying to raise cash for the "governor's emergency needs". But Rs 20 lakhs was difficult to raise in a jiffy, even for an officer charged with supervising all banks in the Bhopal region. So she sprang into action and got her junior officers at the RBI and others to withdraw cash, added some of her own money and rustled up Rs9 lakh. The "governor" or his agent was willing to accept the smaller amount raised and asked for the money to be delivered under a bridge in Bhopal. The regional director hopped into an autorickshaw to personally deliver the money. Even later, she did not check back with the governor's office to ask if he had legitimately sought the money. She probably hoped to be quietly rewarded.
In January, the Bhopal police caught the imposter in another case and only then did the pay-off arranged by the RD come to light. The matter was reported to the head office, which immediately sent a team from the vigilance department to conduct an inquiry. A preliminary inquiry found that "the regional director acted in a most unusual manner, and not only did she fail to exercise her judgment, but her conduct was suspicious and required further investigation. It also held that she coerced a number of officers working under her to collect money". She was transferred out of Bhopal and not given any assignment.
When this episode came to the attention of Dr YV Reddy, he was beside himself with anger. The officer and her juniors were charge-sheeted. A former deputy governor correctly wanted her sacked. After all, how can anyone in such a responsible position be so stupid? Wouldn't she at least check if the call had indeed come from the governor? On the flip side, it would suggest that the officer believed that an RBI governor is capable of asking a regional director to gather Rs20 lakh in cash at short notice and have it delivered to strangers under a bridge! That the senior officer acted on it is a strange reflection of what really goes on inside the RBI. It also suggests that someone at the level of a regional director, did not for a moment think that raising private cash cannot be part of her duties and refused to comply.
Subsequently, a departmental inquiry found her guilty of gross misconduct and negligence and she was demoted from the rank of CGM to GM. Her juniors who blindly followed her orders received similar slaps. But the RBI decided not to sack her. Instead, she was posted as vice principal, Bankers Training College, where she remained from June 2004 until the end of 2006.
But at the RBI, even such gross blunders do not end your career if you have godmothers at senior levels. Once the dust over her Bhopal shenanigans had settled down, she was promoted again in 2007 as chief general manager and given a crucially important post in the Department of Banking Supervision. Since 2010, she is chief general manager in charge the Department of Non-Banking Financial Supervision-an extremely important post at the RBI. Her name is Usha Subramaniam. That the central bank can bury a problem as serious as this is yet another reason why we demand that there needs to be more sunshine on RBI's many departments that have nothing to do with deciding the country's monetary policy.
In effect, even an official with no common sense and convenient moral flexibility can easily get away after such a sordid episode. In this case, our sources say that Ms Subramaniam's career was revived by none other than deputy governor Ms Shyamala Gopinath. RBI governor Dr D Subba Rao has currently charged Ms Gopinath with handling as many as 21 departments. Clearly, the RBI governor needs to dig into the RBI files.
We queried the governor whether this episode and the subsequent elevation of a charge-sheeted senior official meets with his approval. He did not reply. Meanwhile, this is yet another issue that Deepak Mehra from the Forum for Financial Fairness in Mumbai is set to take up with the finance ministry.