After nine months of creating a high drama to select the CIC, the apparent choice seems to be an anti-climax. As for the CVC, questions are being raised over his alleged involvement in corruption
Senior most Information Commissioner, Vijai Sharma is tippled to be the new Chief Information Commissioner (CCIC) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act while KV Chowdary, former chief of Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) is all set to be the new Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), say media reports. If both these reports are true, then it is quite clear that the Modi government is making a mockery of democracy and of the high drama it created for nine months – publishing advertisements for the post of the CIC, forming a Committee to shortlist the applicants and so on.
According to reports, these names are understood to have been cleared at meetings that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Monday with Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge. While Finance Minister Arun Jaitley attended the meeting on selection of a CIC, Home Minister Rajnath Singh attended the one on selection of a CVC. Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh was present at the meetings, the reports say.
At the end of it, if Vijai Sharma does become the CIC, then it is a bad joke on the transparency movement of this country considering that he has only 179 days left to serve before retiring on 1 December 2015 and by the way, that includes weekends and holidays. Considering the CIC’s tenure is for five years, why is the union government is trying to appoint a near-retiree and carrying out this exercise of selection process once again after barely six months? What about transparency on the short listed candidates and reasons for their rejection? Why is the government hell bent on being opaque? If anyway the senior most IC was to be selected as CIC, why then this inordinate delay?
“This means the government must start looking for next CIC from now itself,” says Commodore Lokesh Batra. “This move by the government may be possible to open doors for making Basant Seth as the next CIC – Sushma Swaraj’s preferred candidate, who had come in from the back door during shortlisting of candidates for Information Commissioners in 2012. However, if this happens, there would be a huge controversy,’’ the RTI activist added.
According to Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar during the selection of information commissioners for Maharashtra, no officer, who would retire in three and a half years, was considered for the post. He said, “Besides, it would take around six to seven months for a CCIC to get his bearing in the office, by which time, if it is Vijai Sharma, it would be time for him to retire. I feel there is a hidden agenda which the government is not sharing with the public and that does not augur well for the RTI movement in India.”
As for the selection of former CBDT Chief KV Chowdary as Central Vigilance Commissioner, his image is dented due to his alleged connection with the Ranjit Sinha, the controversial former director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Last October, the Narendra Modi government appointed Chowdary as an advisor to the Special Investigation Team (SIT), which is probing the black money cases.
Prashant Bhushan, in his capacity as co-founder of Swaraj Abhiyan, has issued a press statement comprising details of his letter to Prime Minister Modi, opposing appointment of Chowdary. Following are his objections:
* Mr Choudhry’s name figures four times in the list of persons who visited former CBI Director Mr Ranjit Sinha at his official residence. The Supreme Court on 14 May 2015 has said that Mr. Sinha’s meetings and the impact of those meetings on cases being dealt by the CBI, needs to be investigated
* During the tenure of former CBI Director Mr Ranjit Sinha, Chowdary’s role was investigated by the CBI in ‘stock guru
* Mr Chowdary, who was chairman and member (investigation) of Income Tax, was apparently investigating hawala dealer Mr Moin Qureshi, who repeatedly visited Mr. Sinha
* Mr Chowdary was the then DGIT, Delhi when the Radia tapes were intercepted and did not take any action on evidence available with him. It was the Supreme Court, which had to intervene and order the CBI to investigate.
* As in charge of 2G scam investigation in income tax, Mr Chowdary failed to make any headway in the case, unlike the other agencies like the CBI or the Enforcement Directorate (ED)
* Mr Chowdary was also in-charge of investigating HSBC account holders for almost three years. Until Supreme Court appointed the SIT, there were almost no progress in the Income Tax investigation under Mr Chowdary. At the time, when SIT was formed the income tax department had not filed even a single prosecution case against HSBC account holders.
*Serious adverse remarks have been made in Mr Chowdary’s performance appraisal reports by three senior officers of CBDT
*Mr Chowdary wrongfully reduced the ‘undeclared wealth’ of M/s Flora and Fauna, a company of Ponty Chadha by over Rs200 crore. One of the HSBC account holders so protected was Ponty Chaddha's son-in-law Gurjit Singh Kochar.
Bhushan says, “The Supreme Court on 13 May 2015 lifted the stay on the appointment of CVC and Vigilance Commissioners (VCs), after the Attorney General appearing for the government assured the Court that the government would appoint the best person after following a credible transparent selection process.”
“The selection of such persons in secrecy and without any transparency by a Committee consisting of the PM, HM and the Leader of opposition shows that there is indeed a bipartisan consensus on corruption and that both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) want persons of doubtful integrity, who will be weak and pliable and who have shown a willingness to protect powerful persons, to man such watchdog institutions,” he added.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of
Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.