New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday deferred the hearing of petitions challenging the appointment of Comptroller and Auditor General of India Shashi Kant Sharma till August 8. The court has asked the Centre to respond to the two separate PILs challenging Sharma's appointment on the grounds of conflict of interest as he has earlier served as a Defence Secretary.
"Let the Centre file an affidavit. As the matter requires hearing, put up on August 8," a Bench headed by Acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed said.
The Bench was hearing two separate petitions filed by nine eminent persons, including former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami and advocate M L Sharma on the issue.
The PILs alleged that the Union of India has arbitrarily appointed the CAG, keeping aside all the established practices provided by the Supreme Court in its judgement relating to appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner PJ Thomas and the appointment made in the Punjab Public Service Commission.
"This person (Shashi Kant Sharma) has got the highest degree of conflict of interest than anybody else in the country, as he happens to be the key person in all the defence procurements from 2003 till the date of his appointment as CAG," advocate Prashant Bhushan, who is appearing for the petitioners, contended.
He also said that defence procurement deals are usually the subject matter of auditing by the highest accounting body and moreover, the CBI has also registered a case in relation to one such defence deal undertaken during Sharma's tenure as defence secretary.
The court, which did not issue notice today on the PILs, however, agreed to hear them and sought a response from the Centre.
The petitioners also included former Chiefs of Naval Staff Admiral R H Tahiliani and L Ramdas, former Deputy CAG B P Mathur, Kamal Kant Jaswal, Ramaswamy R Iyer, E A S Sarma, all former secretaries of various government ministries, former Indian Audits and Accounts Service officer S Krishnan and former IAS officer M G Devasahayam.
The petitioners have 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".
The PILs contend that Sharma's appointment was made "without any system for selection, without any selection committee, any criteria, any evaluation and without any transparency".
The defence deals referred to in the petitions include procurement of 12 VVIP choppers from Anglo-Italian firm Agusta Westland for the Indian Air Force at a cost of Rs 3,500 crore, which according to Italian investigators involved alleged kickbacks of at least Rs 350 crore.
The controversial Tatra truck deal was also cleared by Sharma, the petitions submitted.
It has also been contended in the PILs that as CAG he cannot recuse himself from the auditing process as there is no such provision under the Constitution or the CAG Act and also since CAG is a single-member body and if he recuses himself, an audit will not be possible.
Sharma was sworn in as CAG by President Pranab Mukherjee on May 23.
The 61-year-old 1976-batch Bihar cadre IAS officer succeeded Vinod Rai, who had demitted office after a five-and-a-half year tenure.
(With additional inputs from PTI)