New Delhi: The efforts by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to have an official it believes is corrupt transferred from his current important post to a less critical one is being scotched by the finance ministry, highlighting the agency’s lack of teeth in addressing corruption in government departments—one of the main arguments proffered by activist Anna Hazare and his supporters to bring the body under the purview of the proposed anti-corruption Bill.
The case in question concerns Anoop Kumar Srivastava, commissioner, central excise, Delhi-I. The issue got a fresh twist after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday raided his office and registered a first information report against Srivastava and two other officials in a separate case for allegedly demanding bribes from mobile phone importers.
Social activist Anna Hazare. File photo
CVC investigated his role in reducing the tax liability of India Steel Corp., a firm being probed for tax evasion, decided he was guilty and, on 3 November, asked the chairman of Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) to transfer him to a “non-sensitive post”.
On 16 November, at a board meeting (Mint has reviewed the minutes), the CBEC chairman and other members of the board agreed that Srivastava should be transferred to Jaipur as commissioner excise (appeals). The CBEC decision was subsequently forwarded to the finance ministry.
In a reminder dated 17 November, CVC sought action on its recommendation by 2 December. Mint has reviewed copies of both the letters, which also sought to “place the official in the list of officers with doubtful integrity” and reinstate officials who were earlier investigating alleged tax evasion by India Steel, a firm based in Sonepat in Haryana.
However, Srivastava continues in office. The Delhi commissionerate of CBEC is divided into two units and Delhi-I is one of the highest revenue-generating commissionerates of the board—about Rs 373 crore in the year ended March 2011.
N. Vittal, former central vigilance commissioner, said: “If there is no action on the CVC recommendation, it means the department is either not bothered or is protecting the corrupt. If the accused official continues to be in the position, then it affects the investigation. During my tenure as the CVC, the departments did not take action initially. Then, I had to shame the departments to take action...that period we achieved 98% compliance of CVC recommendations.”
He added: “CVC only has advisory powers, but then you have to pursue to make sure your recommendations are complied (with). If there is no action taken on CVC recommendation, despite reminders, then had I been the CVC, I would have taken it up with a higher authority or cabinet secretary to ensure compliance.”
The contention of Hazare and his fellow anti-corruption campaigners has been that CVC is merely an advisory body and an ineffective one at that. “Central government departments seek CVC’s advice on various corruption cases. However, they are free to accept or reject CVC’s advice. CVC mentions these cases of non-acceptance in its monthly reports and the annual report to Parliament,” says their India Against Corruption website.
Emails and phone calls to the spokespersons of the finance ministry, CVC and CBEC chairman did not elicit response. India Steel said it was not aware of any developments.
Calls and text messages to Srivastava’s mobile phone remained unanswered. However, Srivastava had told Mint on 25 November: “Nobody asked me for my comments. CVC did not check the files available with the board. The files will tell that I have done nothing wrong. The CVC investigation is incomplete in the absence of full facts.” He had added: “On the contrary to the allegations, I tried to ensure that there is a strong case against the accused company. The complaint is motivated by some of the officials against whom I took action.”
At the heart of the matter is an investigation by the anti-tax evasion unit under Srivastava into alleged tax evasion of Rs 40 crore by India Steel. The CVC investigation alleges that Srivastava deliberately transferred the investigating officers and reduced the evasion amount to RS 2 crore in lieu of a bribe.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, passed by the Lok Sabha on 27 December, seeks to keep both CBI and CVC out of the direct control of the anti-graft ombudsman. While Groups A and B come under the Lokpal, the lower bureaucracy, which covers Groups C and D, falls under the ambit of CVC. In the current form of the Bill, CVC remains out of the purview of the Lokpal except for cases referred to it by the Lokpal related to Groups A and B.
The new Bill has rejected the key demands of Hazare, who had campaigned widely in support of including both CBI and CVC under the Lokpal.