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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  New CAG Shashi Kant Sharma seen as a conservative choice

New CAG Shashi Kant Sharma seen as a conservative choice

Sharma to succeed Vinod Rai who demits office on Wednesday after a controversial 5-year term

Shashi Kant Sharma. Photo: Hindustan Times (Hindustan Times)Premium
Shashi Kant Sharma. Photo: Hindustan Times
(Hindustan Times)

New Delhi: The government on Tuesday appointed Shashi Kant Sharma as the next comptroller and auditor general of India.

The incumbent, Vinod Rai, demits office after a contentious and, at times, controversial five-year term in office on 22 May. Sixty-year-old Sharma’s term as defence secretary was due to end in July this year.

The big question on everyone’s mind is whether Sharma will share his predecessor’s talent for making headlines.

Those who know Sharma discount the possibility, even while juniors, batchmates and even opposition leaders unanimously affirm his personal and professional integrity. The defence secretary is both “very sharp" and “cool headed", according to an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) batchmate who did not want to be named. Former home secretary G.K. Pillai said Sharma is a straightforward officer with “highest integrity".

However his batchmate added that “he is unlikely to take on the government as Vinod did. If anything, he is likely to be very conservative".

The identity of the new comptroller and auditor general was the subject of much speculation in recent weeks, given the eventful and, at times, turbulent nature of Rai’s term in the job, which was dominated by a series of reports alleging corruption in various government departments.

In the lead up to the appointment of Rai’s successor, an old debate resurfaced over whether the comptroller and auditor general ought to be appointed by a committee comprising members of the opposition rather than the Prime Minister and his team. Nevertheless, former finance minister Yashwant Sinha was generally positive in his reaction to Sharma’s appointment. “I don’t know this person well enough to pass a comment. But certainly he is not among people against whom we had reservations," Sinha said.

The other bureaucrats who were in the race for the post were Planning Commission secretary Sindhushree Khullar, telecom secretary R. Chandrashekhar and revenue secretary Sumit Bose.

Sharma’s career has been varied and spanned several government departments, though it’s notably short in finance experience. He was born in Moradabad in 1952 and took a second division bachelors degree in physics, chemistry and mathematics and then a postgraduate degree in political science, according to his government executive record. He was a lecturer in Meerut College when he took the IAS exam, gaining entry to the 1976 batch. “He was very excited when the results came," remembered one of his friends who declined to be named.

Sharma was allotted the Bihar cadre. “That is a tough state to work in," said the batchmate quoted earlier. “He was well known there. I am not aware of any blemish against him."

Early in his career, Sharma was posted to Banka in Bihar, Dhanbad and Bokaro (now in Jharkhand). He was district magistrate of Bhagalpur in 1982-1985 and served as district magistrate of Patna in 1990, before being appointed labour commissioner in Bihar, a post in which he served between 1990 and 1992 before moving to Delhi to run the department of youth affairs and sports and, thereafter, the ministry of urban affairs and employment.

T. Nanda Kumar, former agriculture secretary and Bihar cadre IAS officer, remembers Sharma as a straightforward officer with a clean record. “But I don’t think he will be as aggressive as Vinod. In fact, he is very measured. His maturity showed during the V.K. Singh episode."

Last year, then army chief Singh created a storm after he took a dispute with the defence ministry all the way to the Supreme court. Singh subsequently retired.

In 1997, Sharma went to the UK for a year to take an MSc degree in administration science and development problems from the University of York. On his return, Sharma worked in the urban development, excise and prohibition, and road construction departments before joining the ministry of defence at the end of 2003, where he has remained until now, with the exception of brief stints in the department of personnel, public grievances and pensions; communications and information technology and the finance ministry’s department of financial services in 2011.

Former comptroller and auditor general T.N. Chaturvedi said that a versatile career may be an asset for the job. “The CAG is someone who has to have a wider perspective, that is what the constituent assembly had pointed out. He has to fulfil certain constitutional obligations. What Vinod has done has only strengthened the institution, and not changed it. He has done his duty remarkably well," Chaturvedi said.

Like the person he will replace, Sharma is described as a keen sportsperson. “He is a good badminton player and still plays the game," said the batchmate quoted earlier.

Tarun Shukla contributed to this story.

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Updated: 22 May 2013, 12:46 PM IST
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