In June 2014, when K V Chowdary was member (investigation) in Income Tax, the odds would have appeared against him for the jobs he would go on to land. A new dispensation had taken over and Chowdary, then four months from retirement, had the previous year ordered raids on Nitin Gadkari’s firms, leading to the latter’s stepping down as BJP president. Years earlier, Chowdary had conducted raids and an investigation against J Jayalalithaa, considered close to the new ruling dispensation.
Chowdary, who will be 61 this year, has beaten those odds with his appointment as Central Vigilance Commissioner, the first non-IAS officer in that post. This was after the Indian Revenue Service of the 1978 batch had become chairman of Central Board of Direct Taxes for two months from August.
During the time his name was being considered as CBDT chairman, the department of revenue and the CVC had been getting complaints about the way he had handled high-profile tax cases. Chowdary then made regular rounds to vigilance commissioner Rajiv, an IPS officer of 1975. Rajiv, the acting CVC since October 2014, was incidentally one of the other contenders for the top post.
It was also during this period in June-July that Chowdary was monitoring an I-T investigation against meat exporter Moin Qureshi for tax evasion and his association with then CBI director Ranjit Sinha and immediate predecessor A P Singh.
Making an impression
A red tilak on his forehead, simply clothed and of polite demeanour, Chowdary is said to have impressed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, whom he had met briefly between the election results and government formation. The Moin Qureshi case in particular had caught the interest of Jaitley, who frequently said he wanted to identify efficient officers with “reasonably good integrity”, and who reportedly felt Chowdary fit that description.
Meanwhile, Jaitley was under criticism from his rivals for the government’s handling of the HSBC case that involves a list of account holders in the bank’s Swiss arm. Chowdary had been involved in the investigation since 2011, first as director general of I-T (investigation), Delhi, and then as member (investigation) since August 2012.
During his meetings with Jaitley, Chowdary struck the minister with his grasp of details, sources say. Credited with a phenomenal memory, Chowdary could recall each case without referring to his files. And while coordinating the HSBC probe through conference calls, he used serial numbers to discuss the work of each zone so that identities could be concealed from one another.
Also during this time, Chowdary was investigating politically sensitive cases such as the I-T one against Virbhadra Singh.
By now, sources in the Finance Ministry say, Chowdary had Jaitley’s ear. The minister resisted pressure and appointed him CBDT chairman. Chowdary was also appointed adviser in a Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team on black money. Even after retiring, he continued to occupy the room of member (investigation) in North Block. Teaming up with his successor Anita Kapoor, Chowdary was seen as de facto member (investigation).
When Jaitley proposed Chowdary’s name for CVC, bureaucrats in the PMO and the cabinet secretariat, most of them IAS officers, resisted on the ground that the post is traditionally earmarked for a retired IAS officer. Jaitley is said to have pushed Chowdary’s case with the Prime Minister, who in turn is said to have asked his officials if there is any rule that specifically prohibits an non-IAS officer from becoming CVC.
When it seemed Chowdary’s appointment was sealed, lawyer Prashant Bhushan wrote to the PM, the Home Minister, the Finance Minister and the Chief Justice of India, with reasons why Chowdary should not be considered. Bhushan is fighting a case in Supreme Court seeking transparency in the selection of the CVC. It had been Bhushan’s complaint, in fact, that had led to the resignation of former CVC P J Thomas because his name had figured in a 20-year-old case, although Thomas was eventually given a clean chit by both the IB and the CBI.
Bhushan has contended that Chowdary’s name figures in a diary maintained at the residence of former CBI director Sinha. He points out that the Supreme Court has asked the CVC to guide the court how to investigate the diary. The alleged entries about Chowdary coincide with periods when he was being investigated in the “Stock Guru” ponzi scam, and when Chowdary was heading the investigation on Moin Qureshi.
Eventually, I-T gave Sinha a clean chit in the Qureshi case while the CBI cleared Chowdary in the Stock Guru case. Bhushan has questioned this. He alleges also that Chowdary did not act on evidence available in the case of the Niira Radia tapes, and that Chowdary extended a tax benefit of Rs 200 crore to late liquor baron Ponty Chadha.
Sources say Jaitley has briefed the Prime Minister about the vigilance-related allegations and that attorney general Mukul Rohatgi too has assured the PM that Bhushan’s complaint will not stand in court.
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