The appointment of Shashi Kant Sharma as the new Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG ) is illegal as it represents a serious case of conflict of interest, said Prashant Bhushan, senior lawyer and Aam Aadmi Party leader on Tuesday. Sharma, currently Defence Secretary, will take over from outgoing CAG chief Vinod Rai on Thursday.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, Bhushan pointed out that a major part of the CAG's work is the auditing of defence procurements. Sharma-an IAS officer of the 1976 cadre-had been in the defence ministry for almost a decade; he was joint secretary, additional secretary and director general (acquisition) between 2003 and 2010. From July 2011 onwards, he was defence secretary, and was given an extension. "This period has been concurrent with the UPA's tenure when all important defence acquisitions were made such as the AugustaWestland chopper purchase," said Bhushan. "Sharma auditing the very defence purchases he was involved in, while in the Defence Ministry, is a clear case of conflict of interest."
The Supreme Court, Bhushan said, had laid down the principle of 'institutional integrity' while quashing the appointment of the previous Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas who was appointed despite a corruption case against him. "This makes Sharma's appointment illegal and it is liable to be struck down," he added. He said he was considering legal action.
The selection of the CAG is arbitrary and not transparent, Bhushan said. He pointed out that the Department of Economic Affairs, in a response to a right to information (RTI) query, had said there was no formal system for appointment of the CAG of India. It was based on 'past conventions and practices' with the Finance Ministry moving a note, and the government making a recommendation to the President. There is no selection committee or collegium constituted for the purpose. Also, there are no eligibility criteria for appointment as the CAG of India. "This shows that the selection of CAG is completely in government's hands," he said. He said that for the proper, independent functioning of the CAG, it was important that the selection procedure was also independent and transparent.