The selection of the new Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Central Information Commissioner Tuesday ran into controversy after the government decided on Sanjay Kothari as the new CVC and Bimal Julka as the next CIC despite objections from Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Opposition member in the high-powered selection committees headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The panel, by a majority decision, also appointed Suresh Patel as Vigilance Commissioner and Anita Pandove as Information Commissioner. While Kothari, a former Secretary to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), is now Secretary to the President of India, Julka is a former Information and Broadcasting Secretary. He is currently an information Commissioner.
Besides Chowdhury, today’s meeting was attended by the PM, Home Minister Amit Shah; MoS, PMO and DoPT, Jitendra Singh, Cabinet Secretary Rajeev Gauba and DoPT Secretary C Chandramouli
At the meeting, Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, is learnt to have argued that the “papers provided by the PMO (for appointment of the CVC) disclose glaring and fatal infirmities with the (search) committee itself.” His objection was that Finance Secretary Rajiv Kumar, a member of the search committee, has “also turned out to be an applicant for the CVC and was finally shortlisted for the post of CVC by the search committee.”
“The entire purpose of constituting the search committee is vitiated considering that one of the members is himself an applicant and has been shortlisted and recommended for the post of CVC,” Chowdhury said in a note and demanded that “a new search committee has to be constituted and the process has to be initiated afresh by inviting fresh applications”. “Otherwise for this high-powered statutory committee to select the names from a pool that is itself a product of arbitrariness would be akin to being a party to the whole process,” he wrote.
Besides Kumar, the members of the search committee were Gauba and Chandramouli.
On the appointment of CIC, Choudhary said, in another note, that the government had rendered the entire process of appointment of CIC and Information Commissioners “an empty paper formality” by not providing any material particulars in advance. “That in absence of recommendations of the search Committee, having been circulated to the undersigned or to the committee itself, how can the undersigned, as a member of the high powered committee discharge his function under Section 12 of the RTI act on the spur of the moment by looking at the recommendations of the search Committee that would be placed before the high powered Committee,” he said in his note.
Chowdhury called it an “unprecedented deviation from the established practice” which “reduces the entire process to be a fait accompli and a formality.”
“In absence of the reasoned and informed decision of the search Committee shortlisting and recommending candidates for the CIC and IC, how can the high-powered statutory Committee be rendered a mere stamping tool for a decision perhaps already taken by the PM and the HM,” he asked.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Chowdhury said: “I raised the issues and flagged their attention to the procedural flaws…thereafter names (of Kumar) were expunged.. these could be considered as dissent.”
Asked whether he agreed with the names selected, he said: “I did not have any other option…it is futile to argue because I had already lodged my dissent…Even the PM has acknowledged my contention. Thereafter, names were selected and I did not find any point in arguing. Because they are in majority…”
The post of CIC has been lying vacant for more than a month after Sudhir Bhargava superannuated on January 11. The post of CVC has been lying vacant since June 9, 2019, after K V Chowdary left on completion of his tenure. Since then, vigilance commissioner Sharad Kumar has been functioning as interim CVC.
This is not the first time the Opposition has disagreed with the government of the day on the appointment of the CVC. In 2010, the selection of the CVC ran into a controversy after the Government decided to appoint the then Telecom Secretary P J Thomas despite strong objections from the then Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj. Thomas’s appointment reached the doorstep of the Supreme Court which struck down his appointment in March 2011.
During Modi’s first tenure, Mallikarjun Kharge, who was then the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha and a member of the high-powered selection committee, had in 2017 registered his dissent on the appointment of the then Delhi Police commissioner Alok Kumar Verma as CBI chief saying he lacked experience to handle corruption cases.
Kharge then dissented when Verma was ousted from the CBI two years later in January 2019 and demanded that he be allowed to continue. He objected to the appointment of Rishi Kumar Shukla as CBI chief a month later in February arguing in a dissent note that he had no experience in investigating anti-corruption cases and that the criterion for selection had been diluted in violation of law and Supreme Court judgments.
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