CAG selection process cannot be changed: Centre tells HC

CAG selection process cannot be changed: Centre tells HC

The Centre today justified in the Delhi High Court the appointment of former defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma as Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) saying it has acted within its rights and the decision making process can't be "outsourced" on mere "apprehensions".

Opposing a plea challenging appointment of Sharma and seeking framing of guidelines for selection of CAG, Attorney General G E Vahanvati told a bench headed by Acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed, "How can the decision making process and the power of the central government be outsourced?

"It cannot be done. The prayer (seeking framing of guidelines for appointment of CAG) is contrary to the constitutional scheme. The selection process cannot be changed on mere apprehension of few persons."

Referring to the constitutional provisions, Vahanvati said the President acts on the "aid or advice" of Prime Minister and his council of ministers and moreover, the law does not provide that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) must have the expertise in auditing.

"The CAG is not an accountant per se. He should have the knowledge of administration also," he said adding that there have been precedents of appointing civil servants as the CAG.

The top law officer sought dismissal of the PILs on the grounds that they were not maintainable as the Supreme Court, in 1996 and in 2007, had dismissed similar pleas on the issue.

Describing Sharma as a bureaucrat of "unblemished" service records for last 37 years, he said there was a difference between the submissions that "he ought not be appointed and he could not be appointed".

"There is not a single allegation against him. You cannot make allegations like this," he said and referred to the defence procurement procedures to drive home the point that the present CAG has no conflict of interest.

The bench, which has so far not issued a notice, is hearing two separate PILs filed by a former CEC and others and advocate M L Sharma on the issue.

The petitions have sought quashing of the appointment of the CAG and a direction to the Centre to frame guidelines for appointment of the top auditing officer of the country.

The court has not now fixed the matter for further hearing on September 5.

Earlier, Vahanvati had objected to the plea of Prashant Bhushan, appearing for former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami and eight other eminent citizens, that the present CAG has the "greatest degree" of conflict of interest in the country as he had been an "integral" part of defence deals during 2003 to 2013 which could be the subject matter of scrutiny in future by the top auditing body.

Moreover, he has no expertise in the field of accounting, Bhushan said.

The PILs allege that the Union of India has arbitrarily appointed the CAG, keeping aside all established practices provided by the Supreme Court in its judgement relating to the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas and the appointment made in the Punjab Public Service Commission.

Besides the former CEC, the petitioners also included former Chiefs of Naval Staff Admiral R H Tahiliani and 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.

The defence deals referred to in the petitions include procurement of 12 VVIP choppers from Anglo-Italian firm Agusta Westland for Indian Air Force at a cost of Rs 3,500 crore, which according to Italian investigators was involved in alleged kickbacks of Rs 350 crore.

The controversial Tatra truck deal was also cleared by Sharma, the petitions submitted.

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 after a five-and-a-half year tenure.

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