The conflict of interest is glaring, but his role in the controversial VVIP helicopter deal while serving in the Union Ministry of Defence has not stopped Shashi Kant Sharma from being appointed as the country’s top government auditor.
The 1976-batch Bihar cadre IAS officer has held senior and sensitive positions in the Defence Ministry, including that of Joint Secretary (Air) and Director General, Acquisitions (DGA).
Now, having taken over as the CAG on Thursday, he will lord over the government audit of the MoD, in particular its performance, expenditure and procurements, all done during his tenure in the ministry in various capacities since 2003. And this is where the Opposition parties feel the conflict of interest lies.
The general impression is that the scam-tainted UPA Government has found “a pliable” bureaucrat to occupy the constitutional post as CAG and keep it off surprises and shocks in the form of negative audits, that were the norm during Sharma’s predecessor Vinod Rai’s tenure, at least till the next Lok Sabha elections.
An MoD official, on condition of anonymity, said, “The government has found a tamed IAS officer to be the CAG now, so that it can expect to be free of the fireworks of the past from the auditor’s table for some time.”
Apart from Sharma, the names of senior bureaucrats whose names did the rounds for appointment as CAG were Revenue Secretary Sumit Bose, Planning Commission Secretary Sindhushree Khullar and former Telecom Secretary R Chandrasekhar.
However, what has disturbed the Opposition is the conflict of interest involved in Sharma’s new role as the CAG.
The CAG, under Rai, was expected to submit an audited report of the defence procurement scandal involving the Italian firm AgustaWestland’s VVIP helicopters to Parliament during the recently concluded Budget session. The CAG report on the chopper deal, though, was not tabled during the Budget Session as it ended on May 8, two days ahead of the schedule.
The Rs 3,546-crore deal was signed in January 2010 when Sharma was DGA. Sharma was Joint Secretary (Air) in the MoD between 2003 and 2007, responsible for IAF acquisitions, when the key parameters for choosing the VVIP choppers were tweaked in 2005 to enable AgustaWestland to participate in the tender. And he was the DGA when the chopper deal was signed. Yet, he has not been questioned or probed in the deal. An MoD official claimed his role did not come under scrutiny as the Italian middlemen in the VVIP chopper deal had not named him and had only named former IAF chief S P Tyagi and his cousins.
During Sharma’s tenure as Defence Secretary, another major defence scam that came to light was the Tatra trucks’ deal.
With Sharma now in the CAG saddle, it is quite possible that he could pick any of the defence deals done in the recent years for scrutiny, as the subject for audit is randomly chosen.