Shashi Kant Sharma, an IAS officer of the 1976 batch from Bihar cadre, took over on Thursday as CAG of India, an office that has been in limelight for exposing a series of scams in government departments and opening a window for judicial activism.
Sharma inherited a daunting legacy from his predecessor, Vinod Rai, who turned the office of CAG into a powerful force for accountability and transparency. Rai was the first of 30 Indian CAGs, who will be remembered for showing that the government and politicians can be made accountable, if statutory bodies simply do their job. Will Sharma rise to the occasion? Until we get there, here is a fact file on the 60-year-old bureaucrat:
Sharma, whose appointment as the new Comptroller and Auditor General of India came just days before he was to have retired from the defence ministry, is described by colleagues as a “stable” and “fair” officer with high integrity.
A master’s degree in political science from the University of York, Sharma like his predecessor Rai, has also served as secretary in the Department of Financial Services.
In the 40-odd years that he has been in the government, Sharma has not received any award or special recognition.
Sharma, enjoys the confidence of the government. But his choice has caused deep misgivings about the continued independence of the CAG and the motivations of a government that has been repeatedly chastised by the Supreme Court for failing to respect the autonomy of independent institutions.
From December 2003, apart from three short stints elsewhere, Sharma was a key functionary throughout in the ministry of defence. His name was recommended by the government to the President without any public discussion whatsoever, on the criteria used for evaluation and the merits and demerits of available candidates.
Despite a clean record, his appointment has invited criticism. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a statement on Wednesday alleged that the appointment was arbitrary, non-transparent, and based on the decision of the finance ministry.
It ignored any formal selection process for the job. It also said that as CAG, the new appointee will be in charge of auditing defence contracts that he was involved in deciding. This compromises his “institutional integrity” as laid-down by the Supreme Court and his appointment is liable to be challenged.