Former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami and eight other eminent citizens on Saturday filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court challenging appointment of Shashi Kant Sharma as Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
The petition has been filed afresh as on July 15 an apex court bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, who has since retired, refused to hear it saying, "the High Court is equally equipped to deal with the matter."
Now, a bench headed by Acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed of the High Court is likely to hear the PIL on July 24.
The PIL, filed by lawyer Prashant Bhushan, has sought setting aside of Sharma's appointment contending that it was made arbitrarily and "without any system for selection, without any selection committee, any criteria, any evaluation and without any transparency".
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.
One of the grounds raised in the PIL was that during his tenure as the DG (Acquisitions) or as the Defence Secretary, Sharma cleared several major defence purchases some of which have turned out to be a source of embarrassment to the Centre.
The defence deals referred to in the petition 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, it said.
It has also 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".
It also claimed the apex court's judgement quashing the appointment of P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner applied to this case as well.
The PIL also said that these major defence acquisitions made over the last few years were cleared by Sharma and now as CAG if he audits these expenditures, it would lead to a conflict of interest as he would be auditing the defence purchases he himself sanctioned.
The petition also contended 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 a day earlier after a five-and-a-half year tenure.