More than 9 months after reserving the order, an apex court bench said it found no grounds to quash the appointments.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday upheld the appointment of central vigilance commissioner K.V. Chowdary and vigilance commissioner T.M. Bhasin. A bench led by justice Arun Misha said it found no grounds to quash the appointments.
More than nine months after reserving the order, the top court pronounced its verdict on a plea filed by an NGO challenging Chowdary and Bhasin’s 10 June, 2015 appointments to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
The plea filed by Common Cause had submitted that Chowdary and Bhasin’s appointments were arbitrary and violated the principle of institutional integrity.
The appointments to the CVC — the country’s top anti-corruption watchdog — have been mired in controversy for the last three years, having undergone two rounds of litigation in the top court. First, a plea was filed challenging the process since wide publicity on the vacancies wasn’t done to garner candidates. And then the subsequent appointment was also challenged.
In 2015, advocate Prashant Bhushan first spoke out against the appointments of Chowdary and Bhasin as office bearers of the country’s top watchdog on grounds that their records were not clean, and the process was opaque. The NGO, represented by Bhushan, then filed a plea in the court challenging the appointments. At the time, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and senior advocate Ram Jethmalani too vociferously voiced their objections to the appointments.
Now, almost three years later, the top court backed the Centre’s candidates. In the interim, Chowdary and Bhasin have continued to hold office and are more than halfway through their four-year-tenure.
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Several controversies have dogged Chowdary over the years.
Representations made to the selection committee comprising the prime minister, finance minister, home minister and even the leader of the opposition party listing out specific infractions by Chowdary, were disregarded and the committee went “full steam ahead to appoint their favoured candidate”, said Bhushan in a letter to the PMO.
In the letter, Bhushan submitted that when Chowdary led the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), he made little progress in the investigation against people who allegedly had illegal offshore accounts with HSBC in the 2015-16 case. When the Supreme Court constituted a special investigation team to look into the black money, it came to light that the department led by Chowdary had not filed a single case against HSBC account holders.
Chowdary has also been linked with former Central Bureau of Investigation director Ranjit Sinha — who is being investigated for allegedly scuttling the probe in the UPA-era coal scam. Earlier in January, the CBI informed the top court that it would investigate the bank account details of all those whose name features in the infamous visitors log recovered from Sinha’s official residence. Chowdary’s name features several times in those logs.
When Chowdary was chairman and member (investigation) of the Income Tax department, the CBI was investigating top IT officials in the “stock guru scam”. Chowdary was also being investigated.
Bhushan suggested that Chowdary and Sinha mutually gave each other a clean chit in the respective investigations against them by their departments.
In Bhasin’s case, Common Cause submitted that in 2013, the CVC had indicted him for forging and tampering a report against the former general manager of the Indian Bank.
The Centre defended the appointments submitting that the candidates were thoroughly vetted before being shortlisted. Appearing for the Centre, attorney general K.K. Venugopal countered allegations made against Chowdary and Bhasin suggesting that aspersions could not be cast against people in such posts.
Moreover, Chowdary and Bhasin were further cleared by various agencies before their appointment came through, said Venugopal.
The Centre added that the selection committee considered every aspect of the candidates before shortlisting them. The government had even submitted all the original records pertaining to the appointments made.
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