A fresh PIL was filed in the Supreme Court on Monday challenging the appointment of Shashi Kant Sharma as the new CAG on the ground of ‘conflict of interest.’
The latest challenge to Sharma’s appointment comes just over a week after the apex court on May 23 agreed to hear a similar plea.
The new petition was filed by former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami, former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (Retd) R H Tahiliani and Admiral (Retd) L Ramdas and B P Mathur, former Deputy CAG, among others. The petition stated that the appointment of Sharma as CAG is liable to be declared void as it was made “arbitrarily” and it would lead to “conflict of interest.”The selection process has to be constitutional, non-arbitrary and in a manner that enables the selection of best person for the office, the PIL said.
“As the office of the CAG acts as a watchdog of the government, the process of appointment cannot be at the sole discretion of the executive. There was no selection committee, no criteria, no transparency and applications were not called for the post.
The process is entirely arbitrary and opaque and thus complete violation of the rule of law,” the petitioners stated.
The PIL alleged that before being appointed as the CAG, Sharma had served in key positions in the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
From 2003 to 2007, he was Joint Secretary in the MoD. In 2007, the government posted him as the Director General of Acquisitions. Thereafter, he served as Officer on Special Duty and was appointed as Defence Secretary in July 2011. During the last six years, Sharma was involved in clearing all major defence purchases either as DG (Acquisitions) or as the Defence Secretary and serious defence scandals have come out in the public domain during the period.
One of the defence deals that brought major embarrassment to the government is the procurement of 12 VVIP choppers for the Indian Air Force from Italy.
This deal was cleared by Sharma in 2010 when he was the DG (Acquisition), the petitioners added.The controversial Tatra tuck deal was also cleared by Sharma, the PIL stated. And now as the 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 said.
Another defence contract cleared during Sharma’s tenure as DG (Acquisitions) was the conversion of Russia’s discarded warship Admiral Gorshkov into a full modern aircraft carrier, renamed INS Vikramaditya, originally scheduled to be delivered by August 2008 at a total cost of $947 million and the cost of which has “shot up” to $2.9 billion with the vessel still not delivered, the petition said.
The PIL 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”.