The Supreme Court today refused to entertain a PIL challenging appointment of Shashi Kant Sharma as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
A bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir asked the petitioners,including former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami and former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (retd) R H Tahiliani,to approach the high court which is “equally equipped to deal with the matter”.
The petition sought setting aside of Sharma’s appointment contending that it was made arbitrarily and “without any system for selection,without any selection committee,any criteria,any evaluation and without any transparency”.
The nine petitioners also sought a direction to the Centre to “frame a transparent selection procedure based on definite criteria and constitute a broad-based non-partisan selection committee,which after calling for applications and nominations would recommend the most suitable person for appointment as CAG”.
Senior advocate Fali S Nariman,appearing for the petitioners,submitted that the court should intervene,saying it is an important matter. The petitioners also included former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (retd) L Ramdas,former Deputy CAG B P Mathur,Kamal Kant Jaswal,Ramaswamy R Iyer,E A S Sarma,all former secretaries of various government ministries,former Indian Audits and Accounts Service officer S Krishnan and former IAS officer M G Devasahayam.
One of the grounds raised in the PIL was that during his tenure as the DG (Acquisitions) or as the Defence Secretary,Sharma cleared several major defence purchases some of which have turned out to be a source of embarrassment to the Centre.
The defence deals referred to in the petition include procurement of 12 VVIP choppers from Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland for the Indian Air Force at a cost of Rs 3,500 crore,which according to Italian investigators involved kickbacks of at least Rs 350 crore. The Tatra truck deal,which erupted into a major scam,was also cleared by Sharma,the petition said.
It submitted that these major defence acquisitions made over the last few years were cleared by Sharma and now as CAG if he audits these expenditures,it would lead to a conflict of interest as he would be auditing the defence purchases he himself sanctioned.
The petition also contended that as CAG he cannot recuse himself from the auditing process as there is no such provision under the Constitution or the CAG Act and also since CAG is a single-member body and if he recuses himself,an audit will not be possible.
It also claimed the apex court’s judgement quashing the appointment of P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner applied to this case as well. Sharma was sworn in as CAG by President Pranab Mukherjee on May 23. The 61-year-old 1976-batch Bihar cadre IAS officer succeeded Vinod Rai,who had demitted office a day earlier after a five-and-a-half year tenure.