Politics

Vigilance Commission Watches as Officials Accused of Corruption Soar to Positions of Power

Turning a blind eye to the CVC’s directives, the Centre and state governments are shielding and patronising officials against whom evidence of wrongdoing exists.

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New Delhi: Cutting across party lines, the Central and state governments are stonewalling efforts by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to clean up the government machinery. Instead of prosecuting officials suspected of corruption, the governments are selectively safeguarding them.
 
Documents accessed by Cobrapost reveal that successive governments have shown no urgency to bring 32 officials (secretaries, collectors, bank officials and engineers) to book – officials against whom the CVC had recommended prosecution on corruption charges. So glaring has been the inaction over the CVC’s recommendations that some cases are pending with various ministries for more than four years, although they should have been acted upon within the stipulated four-month period.
 
Ignoring CVC inquiries
 
Amongst the 32 officials against whom the CVC sought prosecution, B.P. Acharya’s case stands out. The CVC had recommended action against Acharya, principal secretary, Hyderabad, not once but thrice: first in March 2012 and then twice in September 2013. The CVC is piqued at these delays and recently summoned as many as five ministries to seek clarifications.
 
By not providing the required information on these officials’ acts of omission and commission or by simply refusing to move against them, the CVC’s probe is effectively stalled. Governments have also appointed or extended the tenure of some of the top officials in public sector undertakings (PSU) despite ongoing CVC probes against them. Cobrapost has documents pertaining to three such recent appointments or extensions showing the rot within.
 
When in September 2010, Arup Roy Choudhury was appointed the chairman and managing director (CMD) of the ‘Maharatna’ NTPC Limited amid stiff competition, it raised many eyebrows considering his past as the chief of National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC), another PSU. Although many vigilance inquiries were still pending against him, in a confidential note written on May 12, 2010, then Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said: “By virtue of his experience in project construction, project management, project monitoring and all other related areas and leader of a PSU for more than 9 years makes him more suitable for the post. Hence, I recommend Shri Arup Roy Choudhury for the post of CMD, NTPC”.
 
During the next five years of his tenure, the power ministry blocked the CVC’s probe by denying relevant documents to the watchdog. Since January 9, 2009, the CVC has sent as many as five reminders to the power ministry asking for inputs on a specific complaint (no. 1648/08/10) but in vain. In its various replies to applications filed by RTI activist A.K. Jain till April 2 last year, a dejected CVC observed: “CVO (in the power ministry) recommendation report (on Roy Choudhury) not yet received.”  This deliberate dilly-dallying ensured a smooth run for Roy Choudhury, who retired on August 31 last year, unscathed.
 
Another PSU honcho to have enjoyed a free run despite several pending vigilance inquiries into irregularities, including the misuse of government funds for personal benefits is A.B. Agrawal. The chief of the Bhakra Beas Management Board, he got seven extensions in a row since March 2013 before the Modi government showed him the door on September 24 last year.
 
The CVC could not go ahead with the proceedings it had initiated against Agrawal as the Ministry of Power refused to cooperate, like it did in Roy Choudhury’s case, by not providing any relevant information. In a letter to the ministry on March 29 last year, the CVC observed:
 
“Investigation report sought by the Commission vide OM no Conf/5766/14 from M/o Power is still awaited. Further a case being dealt with in file no 013/PWR/058 is also yet to be taken to the logical conclusion. Therefore, it would not be possible for the Commission to consider vigilance clearance in respect of Shri A B Agrawal at this stage.” Agrawal even appealed to the Delhi High Court against his repatriation to NHPC, his parent company, but got the thumbs down.
 
State governments turn a blind eye too
 
Superannuation or end of term brings new opportunities for some officials, their questionable past notwithstanding. They are welcomed by state governments, technically outside the watchdog’s purview. A case in point is that of R.N. Sen, former chairman of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC). Sen was appointed chairman of the West Bengal State Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBSERC) in September last year by the state government. Roy Choudhury too was appointed head of the West Bengal Public Service Commission immediately after the end of his term as NTPC chief.
 
Sen has as many as eight vigilance inquiries for financial and technical irregularities pending against him. He was also chargesheeted by the chief vigilance officer at the DVC. The allegations involve the violation of rules while awarding a 123-crore-rupee contract to the NBCC, irregularities in awarding contracts for turbine-overhaul work the Raghunathpur Thermal Power plant, and the overdrawing of salaries and allowances to the tune of over eight lakh rupees.
 
In another reply to Jain’s RTI application, the CVC in June 25 last year admitted that “the cases have not yet reached its logical conclusion”. The CVC asked the state government to get Sen’s appointment cleared from the union government: “It is therefore advised that Department of Power & NES, Government of West Bengal may refer to the matter to the Ministry of Power, Government of India, being the last employer of Mr Sen.”
 
However, the Mamata Banerjee’s government went ahead with the appointment. “It appears that the West Bengal Government has decided on the appointment on the assumption that there were no pending vigilance cases. The documents of CVC suggest to the contrary,” says Padamjit Singh of the All India Power Engineers’ Federation, which made several representations to the state government against Sen’s appointment.
 
Addressing CVC’s concerns
 
Raising a red flag over the issue, the CVC has conveyed to the Union government three areas of concern: a delay in processing complaints, a selective approach and the non-acceptance of CVC’s advice. According to the CVC, “Delays have been noticed not only at various levels of processing the complaints/cases but also at the level at which decisions are to be taken by the competent authorities. The common areas where delays have been noticed pertain to the investigation of complaints, issue of charge-sheets for initiation of appropriate departmental proceedings, appointment of inquiry officers and the issue of the final orders after the completion of the disciplinary proceedings.”
 
The “selective approach” that certain departments apply to let the accused off the hook is expressed in no uncertain terms: “The organisations’ unwillingness to accept the CVC’s advice against some officers is viewed as examples of a ‘selective approach’ by the organisations in order to favour/disfavour certain officers. Instances of some organisations letting off delinquent officials without punishment or with lighter penalties convey wrong signals.”
 
Finally, the CVC has conveyed its concern over the way its advice is ignored by authorities concerned: “It remains a matter of concern that either the consultation mechanism with the Commission was not adhered to or the authorities concerned did not accept the Commission’s advice. Further, there have been instances where the advices tendered by the Commission have been diluted considerably without approaching the Commission for reconsideration of its advice.”
 
Says the Chief Vigilance Commissioner of India, K.V. Chowdary, “The CVC has to raise the alarm bell before it is too late. A slew of measures have been taken recently conveying the government that enough is enough. Now act fast.” 
 
Accordingly, the CVC recently conducted an internal study Existing Pattern of Prolonged Disciplinary Proceedings, outlining time-bound remedies and asking the government to “re-engineer” its internal mechanism to accelerate the vigilance process. Elaborates Chowdary, “We thought the time is ripe. CVC must be more active to give a clear signal that the government’s vigilance process needs to shed the existing flab.” The CVC may be ready to crack the whip but whether it will be allowed to by the vested interests well-entrenched in political executive and bureaucracy is a moot question.