High Powered Committee headed by the PM to select a Vigilance Commissioner
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had published a D.O. Letter on its website last month inviting nominations from the Cabinet Secretariat and Secretaries of all Departments in the Central Government for shortlisting of 5 candidates for the consideration of the High Powered recommendation Committee headed by the Prime Minister to select a Vigilance Commissioner (VC) for the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). The tenure of one VC Mr. Sri Kumar comes to an end in January 2014. It is good that the Central Government has started the process of shortlisting candidates well in advance. The deadline for sending nominations is 15th November, 2013
Guidelines for shortlisting of candidates:
While many respectable civil servants have been appointed to this apex anti-corruption body in the past, the image of the CVC took a beating when the Central Government appointed as VC a serving public servant against whom a corruption case was pending in court a couple of years ago. Quashing that appointment the Supreme Court of India held that persons of impeccable integrity who would also ensure institutional integrity must be considered for appointment.
Accordingly the DoPT has issued guidelines for recommendation of candidates for the shortlist. While the earlier tendency was to select candidates from amongst serving officers of Secretary of a Dept or Ministry / Chairman of a Public Sector Undertaking grade, the Apex Court emphasised that provision in law which makes even a retired civil servant of equivalent rank eligible for consideration, provided he has not reached the age of 65 years.
Why are citizens or the MPs they elect not eligible for shortlisting?:
By law no ordinary citizen who has not served at a very senior level in the Central Government is eligible for appointment as a member of the CVC. This is very strange indeed. With due respect to Parliament's wisdom in writing such a requirement into law, it must be said that by this very criterion even Members of Parliament who are not senior level retired civil servants will be ineligible for appointment as members of the CVC even though they may be the most upright and honest of citizens with a deep concern and desire to eradicate corruption.
If the first principle of financial propriety is spending public funds with as much care as any person would spend money from one's own pocket (according to the General Financial Rules, 2005), why should an ordinary citizen who is honest, with impeccable integrity and a person of eminence in public life who has a deep knowledge of matters relating to public finances and vigilance issues, not be considered for appointment to the CVC? This provision may be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution which requires equal treatment of all persons before the law. As for specialised knowledge about vigilance issues, if senior bureaucrats are the only persons who have such expertise, why then do we have so many corruption scandals popping out of the government's closet every month? Somehow the expertise about vigilance matters seems to serve the society better while placed in the CVC instead of when it is within government. Unfortunately, all prominent actors from civil society to political parties involved in the Lokpal / Lokayukta debate-cum-legislative exercise have almost abdicated their responsibility to enact that law. That Bill did not even make it to the agenda of business of the Parliament during the monsoon session this year.
Irony of the nomination-seeking exercise:
Although the DoPT has published the call for nominations to fill up the vacancy at the CVC, the game is a closed one. Applicants are prevented form approaching the DoPT directly with their applications. Instead an application must to be routed through the Cabinet Secretary or the Secretary of the concerned Department. To the best of my knowledge nothing in the CVC Act says that eligible persons may not file an application directly with the DoPT. I am willing to change my opinion if somebody could show me a legal provision that prevents eligible people from applying directly for consideration. The irony of the situation is that both serving and retired civil servants will have to use their influence on their juniors in the Departments to get them nominated for consideration.
Where is the commitment of political parties to eradicate corruption?:
As elections are around the corner, this is the right time to ask the ruling political alliance and the opposition political parties, why they have failed the people in enacting strong anti-corruption laws by involving people. Apart from the Lokpal / Lokayukta Bill, the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, the Citizens Services Grievance Redress Bill, the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill, the Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill are all pending in Parliament. The Bill to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act, is the latest addition to this list. If the winter session of Parliament turns into another shouting match between political parties, all these Bills are in serious danger of lapsing when elections are announced. However many of our elected representatives are desperately trying to exile their parent political parties from the RTI Act in order to avoid being directly answerable to the people between elections.
Undeterred by these strange twists of political will to enact legislative reform, the DoPT, like a lone crusader, is going around asking civil society for its recommendations about preventing and combating corruption because in 2013-14 India is up for peer review of the steps it has taken to implement the UN Convention Against Corruption which it ratified in 2011. At least somebody in government cares and that is a good opportunity for civil society to get active again.
It would be great if we as civil society could identify upright and honest retired senior civil servants who are not aged above 62 (so that they have a full tenure in the CVC) who may not want to indulge in influence-seeking by approaching their juniors for nominations and send their applications directly to the Cabinet Secretariat.
Why? Because vigilance against corruption is every citizen's concern. Processes of appointment to bodies such as the CVC must be made more participatory.