Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Institutional integrity — Can there be double standards?

MG Devas­ahaya­m, IAS (Retd­)

In September 2010, the UPA government appointed PJ Thomas, an IAS officer, as central vigilance commissioner despite him having one corruption case against him for which an application to seek his prosecution was pending. There was furore all over and the Centre for Public Litigation challenged it in the Supreme Court.

On March 3, 2011, a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice SH Kapadia and Justices KS Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar struck down the appointment saying that ‘Institutional Integrity’ is supreme. Inter alia the court said: ‘Institutional integrity is the primary consideration which the high powered committee is required to consider while making recommendation for appointment of central vigilance commissioner. In the present case, this vital aspect has not been taken into account by the HPC while recommending PJ Thomas… What we are emphasising is that institutional integrity of an institution like CVC has got to be kept in mind while recommending the name of the candidate. Whether the incumbent would or would not be able to function?

Whether the working of the institution would suffer? If so, would it not be the duty of the HPC not to recommend the person.’

A similar PIL was filed in the Supreme Court by seven ‘prominent citizens’ when the same UPA government announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, against whom an alleged fake encounter case is pending in the J&K high court seeking a commission of inquiry and a court of inquiry is going on in Meerut for his lapses as commandant of an Indian Army contingent on a peacekeeping mission in Congo, which was accused of sexual exploitation of local women including 68 cases of rapes and siring of illicit children. ‘Institutional integrity’ of the army was at the core of this PIL.

The PIL had also pointed out the defence ministry’s as well as a former army chief’s manipulations to cut short the tenure of the present incumbent General VK Singh and the premature announcement of Lt Gen Bikram Singh as the next army chief without finally resolving the DoB issue of the former.

Documents in the MS Branch prove that Selection Boards for promotion of VK Singh to the select ranks of brigadier (Sept 1996) major general (Oct 25, 2001 and Sept 18/19, 2003) and lieutenant general (Sept 30, 2005) reflect his DoB as May 10, 1951. But ignoring all these, the issue was raked up by former COAS General JJ Singh with an ulterior motive to cut short the present army chief’s tenure

In its order dated February 10, Supreme Court had neither endorsed the entry in the UPSC application form (May 10 1950), nor upheld the so called ‘commitment’ given by VK Singh regarding his DoB.Also, contrary to wide publicity, the court had taken no position on the general’s DoB and left it to the ‘Union of India’ to recognise one of the two DoBs. It had also allowed the government to withdraw the operative part (merits) of its December 30, 2011, order in which it had rejected Gen VK Singh’s statutory complaint seeking recognition of 1951 as his year of birth. With the merit part withdrawn, original statutory complaint stands revived. MoD since then had not passed any legally speaking order recognising the actual DoB of General VK Singh before announcing his successor.

PIL also elaborated the former army chief’s plans to eliminate others from amongst Lt Gen Bikram Singh’s contemporaries from the race.

Yet, based on a clearance report given by Intelligence Bureau, on April 23, a two-judge bench comprising Justices RM Lodha and HL Gokhale summarily dismissed the PIL, virtually overturning the three-bench order in PJ Thomas case. Interestingly the court of inquiry and the pending high court case were allowed to proceed! Experts say that IB has no jurisdiction to give clearance on matters pending before a high court and a court of inquiry.

Now, with the continuation of these proceedings, the perilous implication is that twin ‘Swords of Damocles’ would be hanging over the head of an army chief, severely compromising the integrity and competence of the institution. What a fate for the Indian Army!

The moot issue arising from this bizarre situation is that while the CVC, that primarily enquires into corruption needs institutional integrity, the Indian Army that protects and safeguards the sovereignty, integrity and unity of the nation does not need it. Can such blatant double standards be countenanced?

The writer is a former bureaucrat.

By the courtesy of  DNA

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