Gurugram: There is considerable heartburn in the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, the constitutional authority which is mandated to oversee public finances of the Union government, state governments and public organisations. Reason: the appointment of Girish Chandra Murmu to the position after a brief stint as the first Lieutenant Governor of the newly-created Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. A senior officer has proceeded on long leave while others are reportedly sulking.
“Never before in the history of the office of the CAG has a person been appointed to head the organisation after going over the heads of so many officers who are senior to him even if they belong to a different civil service,” said a retired officer who worked with the CAG’s office.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the retired bureaucrat said there had been occasions in the past when Vinod Rai was CAG between 2008 and 2013 when an officer senior to him worked in the same office. “But never have we seen a situation when at least seven serving officers are senior to the incumbent,” the former civil servant told NewsClick, adding that he wondered if “both merit and seniority have been given the go-by” in Murmu’s appointment.
The senior officer in the CAG’s office who has proceeded on long leave is Vijayraghavan Ravindran, a 1983 batch officer of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IA&AS). He is from Kerala. From all accounts, Ravindran has a reputation of being an “honest and upright” officer and is highly regarded by his peers as a “no-nonsense” person who did not hesitate to express his opinion.
“There are not too many officers like Ravindran,” said the source quoted earlier. “Most civil servants are unwilling to antagonise the government, especially in the last years of their service.”
NewsClick contacted Ravindran to ascertain the reasons why he proceeded on leave but he declined to comment.
The current and 14th CAG, Murmu, is an officer of 1985 batch of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) who retired last year. In the hierarchy-conscious civil service, there are seven officers of the IA&AS who are all Deputy CAGs of the rank of Secretary to the government of India, who are technically “senior” to him.
They are, besides Ravindran, Roy S Mathrani, both belonging to the 1983 batch, Saroj Bunhani, Meenakshi Gupta (both of the 1984 batch), Shubha Kumar, J Mahalekshmy Menon and Namita Sekhon (all three of the 1985 batch).
Two other officers of equivalent seniority in the IA&AS are on deputation outside the CAG’s office: 1983 batch officer Sudha Krishnan, Member, Finance, Space Commission, holding additional charge in the same position in the Atomic Energy Commission and the Earth Commission; and 1984 batch officer Gargi Malhotra who is a secretary-level officer in the Ministry of Defence.
When Vinod Rai became the CAG in 2008, Bharati Prasad, an IA&AS officer belonging to the 1971 batch, was a year senior to him in his office. Another CAG V K Shunglu (1996-2002) worked for a while with an officer of the same batch in the civil services.
When contacted, Rai did not wish to comment on the current goings-on in the office of the CAG. “I broke my umbilical cord with the CAG’s office seven years ago and I have nothing to say,” he told NewsClick.
When asked if the CAG’s post was that of a political appointee, he said: “The CAG is a nominee of the political executive but once he assumes the position his loyalty should be to the chair he sits on and not to the political executive.”
Murmu Close to Modi?
An IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, Murmu was born to a Santhal family from Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. He is the eldest of eight siblings. He holds a master’s degree in political science from Utkal University and has a master’s in business administration from the University of Birmingham.
He was Relief Commissioner when Narendra Modi became Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001. He went on to hold the positions of Commissioner, Mines and Minerals and managing director, Gujarat Maritime Board. In 2004, he was joint secretary, Home Department, under Amit Shah.
R B Sreekumar, an officer of the Indian Police Service, had alleged that Murmu was “authorised and entrusted with the task of tutoring and briefing government officials deposing before the Nanavati Commission (that inquired into the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat) by the highest authorities of the government and Home Department.” This was recorded in a note submitted by amicus curae Raju Ramachandran in a report to the Supreme Court in 2011.
The court-appointed Special Investigative Team later said the allegations could not be established and that Sreekumar was “motivated.” Ramachandran's note submitted to the Supreme Court accepted the SIT’s findings but observed that calling Sreekumar “motivated” was not justified.
It was also claimed that Murmu handled Amit Shah’s case papers relating to the Ishrat Jahan and Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter cases.
After Modi moved to New Delhi as Prime Minister in 2014, Murmu’s fortunes soared. In 2015, he was appointed joint secretary in the Department of Expenditure in the Ministry of Finance. Two years later, he became special secretary in the Department of Revenue in the same ministry and in 2019, he became secretary, Department of Expenditure, before moving to Srinagar as LG, J&K.
The author is an independent journalist