Modi government’s appointment of KV Chowdary as chief vigilance commissioner has raised some objections. Can he survive the onslaught?
By Vishwas Kumar
It seems the post of Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has become jinxed. Last time it was the turn of Congress-led UPA government to face embarrassment, as the Supreme Court quashed the appointment of its protégé PJ Thomas, a retired IAS official.
Now it is turn of the NDA government under Narendra Modi to face a similar situation following the appointment of another CVC, KV Chowdary, who is a retired taxman. Some eminent lawyers had publicly opposed the appointment and threatened to legally challenge it.
However, this time round, Modi government is confident of defeating any challenge to the CVC’s appointment because no criminal case was ever registered against him (as it was in Thomas’s case), nor was any adverse remark ente-red in his annual confidential report (ACR) during his service. In fact, he retired as the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) chairman and was soon after appointed as “advisor” to the special investigation team (SIT), constituted and monitored by the Supreme Court, to probe black money. Sources say that when Chowdary, as CBDT chairman, was nodal official in helping the SIT, the team, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Judge MB Shah, was so impressed with Chowdary’s work that they requested the finance ministry to continue his service as an “advisor” on retirement.
The government feels that notwithstanding the controversial allegations of some lawyers (which are cited later in this story), there is no violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment in Thomas’s case that the CVC should possess “unimpeachable” credentials. Chowdary, too, defended himself in a series of television interviews, saying he was a “career bureaucrat” and had done his job “honestly, as per my ability”. He also clarified that all his meetings with former CBI Director Ranjit Sinha, which are being now cited against him was in the pursuance of “official duties”, as he was handling several cases which were being simultaneously probed by several investigative agencies.
The controversy grabbed headlines when eminent lawyer and Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani, once an ardent admirer of Modi, shot-off a stinging letter, opposing Chowdary’s appointment on the grounds that the latter possessed a “dubious” record. “By my letter of June 06, 2015, which you acknowledged, I had advised you not to make the appointment of CVC. My letter enclosed clinching evidence of the Finance Minister’s recommendee’s total unfitness for the job. It was only the first installment,” Jethmalani said in his letter to Modi, dated June 08.
“The second, the third and the fourth installments, even more incriminating, are ready to be sent to you. I was however shocked to hear the Attorney General announce in the Supreme Court today that the appointment has been made; no use sending them to you,” he added.
Concluding his brief letter on a personal note, he said: “Now we shall fight out in the Supreme Court and the Court of people of India,” adding: “My diminishing respect for you ends today.”
The SIT, headed by Justice (retd) MB Shah (above), was impressed
with Chowdary’s work and wanted his services even after retirement
Chowdary is a 1978 batch Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer—the first non-IAS (Indian Administrative Services) official to make to the post of CVC. He had one of the longest stints in CBDT, the apex policy-making body of the Income Tax Department, and held the charge of member (audit and judicial) in the Board, before taking over charge of investigations. Prior to his stint with CBDT, he was the director general of IT (investigations) in Delhi and handled several key probes.
Chowdary’s appointment was finalized in a meeting between Prime Minister Modi, leader of largest opposition party in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, held in the first week of June.
Chowdary had achieved a rare feat by first impressing the Congress-led UPA government and then, the BJP-led NDA. During his long stint with the Income Tax Department, he had handled politically sensitive probes related to the 2G scam, Niira Radia tapes, Moin Qureshi’s case, Nitin Gadkari’s case and J Jayalalithaa’s case. However, after Modi took charge in May 2014, Finance Min-ister Arun Jaitley pushed Chowdary’s name for the chairmanship of CBDT in August 2014. The appointment was made with only three months left for his retirement.
Soon after his retirement in November 2014, Jaitley supported his name for the specially-created post of “advisor” to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing black money cases. The SIT, headed by retired Justice MB Shah, has as its vice-chairman Justice (retd) Arijit Pasayat. Heads of 11 different organizations or departments are also on the high-powered panel.
The Prime Minister and his advisors are confident of their choice and insist that the government is under no obligation to be dictated to by critics like Jethmalani or answer every query.