The former Chief Election Commissioner, N. Gopalaswami, and eight other eminent citizens on Monday challenged the appointment of Shashi Kant Sharma as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.

Their public interest litigation petition is to be listed in July first week along with a similar petition filed by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma.

In their petition, Mr. Gopalaswami; the former Chiefs of the Naval Staff, Admiral R.H. Tahiliani and Admiral L. Ramdas; the former Deputy CAG, B.P. Mathur; Ramaswamy R. Iyer; and four others sought a declaration that the appointment of Mr. Sharma was non est or void as it was made arbitrarily by a procedure that did not withstand the test of constitutionality and also on the ground of conflict of interest.

The petitioners said, “As far as the office of the CAG is concerned, the government has followed no system for selection. There is no selection committee, no criteria, no transparency and no call for applications or nominations. The process is entirely arbitrary and opaque, and thus completely violative of rule of law and several judgments of this court. Also, the zone of consideration has been restricted to civil servants, a limitation not found in the Constitution…” They said:

“Before being appointed as the CAG, Mr. Sharma had served in key positions in the Ministry of Defence that involved decision-making powers over purchases running into tens of lakhs of crores of rupees.

“During 2003-2007, he was the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Defence. In 2007, after serving a brief stint as Additional Secretary, the Government posted him as the Director General of Acquisitions in charge of all defence purchases, where he served till September 2010. Thereafter, he served briefly as Officer on Special Duty, and was appointed as Defence Secretary in July 2011. He remained as Defence Secretary until recently when he was appointed as the CAG by the Government.

One of the defence deals that is a major source of embarrassment to the Government involves the procurement of 12 VVIP choppers for the Indian Air Force from Italy.

“This deal was cleared by him in 2010 when he was the DG (Acquisition). This Rs. 3,500-crore deal with Anglo-Italian firm Agusta Westland has been investigated by Italy and Italian prosecutors have in their charge sheet stated that a kickback of at least Rs. 350 crore was paid to middlemen to swing the deal in the company’s favour. Pursuant to this, the CBI has registered an FIR and is investigating into the allegations of possible kickbacks in which 11 persons have been named as accused, including the former chief of Indian Air Force.

“The tenure of Mr. Sharma also saw the eruption of the scam relating to Tatra trucks. The impugned appointment of a person with such direct conflict of interest is also against the code of ethics of auditors. An auditor, who for whatsoever reason cannot be, or is expected not to be, unbiased, cannot be allowed to function as an auditor, more so as India’s constitutional auditor of the public finances.”

They sought a direction to quash his appointment.

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