From ‘One Man Commission’ to ‘Multi Member Commission’ and from ‘Advisory Body’ to ‘Statutory Body’ the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has come a long way since its inception in 1964. Now, as the issue of corruption taking a centre stage with various conundrums foreseen, a humble attempt is made on a SWOT analysis on CVC. The author goads with this idea, thanks to his two and a half decades of association with CVC from inside and outside.
Nevertheless, before venturing in to a SWOT analysis, it is felt worthwhile to look into the background against which the CVC was set up in 1964.
The recommendations of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption, famously known as Santhanam Committee, paved way for setting up of CVC. It is interesting to see the reason enumerated by the Santhanam Committee while recommending a set up called CVC. The Committee observed:
“While we agree that detection, investigation and punishment of corruption and misuse of authority by individual Government servants is of the utmost importance, we felt that unless the Central Vigilance Organisation was so expanded as to deal with complaints of failure of justice or abuse of authority suffered by the citizens, though it may be difficult to attribute them to any particular official, its work may not be as fruitful as we wished. We therefore recommended the setting up of a Central Vigilance Commission with a branch that would deal with general complaints and redress and another branch that would deal with vigilance activities.” – Para 9.16
One of the main recommendations of the Santhanam Committee on setting up of Central Vigilance Commission is:
“The Central Vigilance Commission should consist of three Directorates, one to deal with general complaints of citizens (Directorate of General Complaints and Redress), another to deal with all vigilance matters (Directorate of Vigilance) and the third the Central Police Organisation which would exercise the powers now exercised by the Delhi Special Police Establishment till such time as the Central Bureau of Investigation is set up”.
(Para 2 of Annexure VI of the Santhanam Committee’s Report)
Santhanam Committee made a lucid differentiation between complaint redressal on general complaints, vigilance activities and criminal action on corruption.
In fact, India is the only country to have evolved a mechanism called ‘Vigilance’ to address the issue of corruption. Vigilance departments in India came in to existence much before the CVC did. Government created vigilance departments as early as in 1950s in all departments and also set up Administrative Vigilance Division under the Ministry of Home Affairs (now under DOPT). Interestingly, the government had also put in place the CDA Rules (Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules) in the departments/organisations. With this arrangement, the vigilance departments were recognised and their recommendations became a key input for the disciplinary authorities(DA), designated under the respective CDA Rules, who were vested with the powers to take penal action against the erring public servants.
There is yet another interesting factor. The disciplinary action is taken against the erring officials on the premise of ‘preponderance of probability’. This is unique because the standard of proof required for imposing penalty on government servants based on disciplinary proceedings is only ‘preponderance of probability’ and not ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ as is required under the judicial proceedings.
While the Santhanam Committee distinguishes clearly the vigilance activities from anti-corruption activities, with the institutionalisation of vigilance mechanism, particularly after setting up of CVC, the whole gamut of vigilance activities revolve around ‘vigilance angle’. CVC defined vigilance angle through its circular No.000/VGL/18 dated 13.04.2004 & 21.12.2005. Nevertheless, vigilance angle could be depicted as follows in simple terms:
Thus, the issue of tackling corruption in India took a dual route. One, through the disciplinary action within the organisation using the CDA Rules and two, through criminal action using the law of the land, particularly the PC Act, CrPC and IPC. Perhaps, keeping this in mind that the Santhanam Committee thought of an agency called CVC which could handle this dual task of handling the issue of corruption through disciplinary as well as criminal proceedings. No doubt, ‘vigilance’ fits in both this routes.
Well, with this backdrop, the attempt for a SWOT analysis on CVC begins here.
The strength of CVC lies in its stature, though it does not find a place in the Constitution. Perhaps while framing the Constitution it was not expected that there would be so much of erosion of values and eruption of corruption. Otherwise, they must have included in the Constitution itself, a Commission of the stature of CVC similar to CEC, CAG and UPSC. Probably, realising this gap that the government thought it fit to give the status of the CVC at par with the CEC/UPSC and subsequently made it a statutory body.
So, the present stature of CVC is certainly the greatest strength.
The next is its network provided in the statute by way of extended hands to perform its function, i.e. the Chief Vigilance Officers (CVOs) on the one hand and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the other. The spread and reach is all over the country. This certainly is strength.
The next one is the amalgamation of experience and expertise. This amalgamation comes with the officials deputed to CVC from different central services. This is unique in a sense that the repository of knowledge in CVC gets supplemented and enriched through their domain knowledge / expertise in their respective services.
Finally, the in-house repository of knowledge available in CVC in its permanent officials who provide not only continuity but also posses the wealth of knowledge and also in the thousands of complaints, cases handled and advice tendered by CVC over half a century is a great strength as well. In fact, with these CVC could set up a Vigilance Academy which would go beyond the stature and purpose of the International Anti-Corruption Academy which was inaugurated in September 2010 in Laxenburg, Vienna, Austria.
The biggest weakness of CVC is its jurisdiction. Out of the three pillars of our democracy, CVC has no jurisdiction over Legislature and Judiciary. In the case of the third pillar, i.e. Executive also, the CVC has jurisdiction only over the Central Government and the State Governments do not come under CVC. Even in the case of Central Government, the CVC’s jurisdiction is restricted to Group ‘A’ officers and their equivalent in other central government organisations. In a nutshell, the CVC’s jurisdiction is very limited and does not commensurate with its stature. The same is depicted as follows:
Even though the CVC is claimed to be the apex anti-corruption body of India, this limitation of jurisdiction has been the greatest weakness of CVC.
The second weakness is the absence of an exclusive ‘Investigation wing’ in CVC. Of course, CVC has been undertaking direct enquiries in addition to the cases referred by it to CBI for investigation. However, in most of the cases, the CVC depends on its extended hands, the Chief Vigilance Officers (CVO). The weakness gets exposed here particularly when there are allegations of corruption against Board level executives of the Public Sector Enterprises. In all such cases, the CVOs of the PSEs are not authorised to investigate. The Board Level executives come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry/Department. Only the CVOs of Ministry / Department are authorised to enquire into such allegations against Board level executives. Unfortunately, the CVOs of the Ministry/Department are part-time CVOs and they have a minimal manpower and a structured vigilance department is missing. In fact, this is not only weakness but also vulnerable particularly when a Ministry has half a dozen or more PSEs under its basket and managed by a part-time CVO without a structured vigilance department.
Another weakness is the lack clarity on the role of the extended hands of CVC, i.e. the CVOs. Presently, the CVOs act as special advisor/assistant to the Head of the department or the CEO of organisation. At the same time, they report functionally to CVC and per se has independence in functioning. Nevertheless, the actual protection to CVOs comes from CVC when the ACRs of CVOs are finally accepted by CVC after the reporting by the Head of the Department/CEO and review by the Secretary of the Administrative Ministry. However, this alone cannot guarantee total independence of functioning of CVO on a day to day basis. The ‘catch 22’ situation can not be ruled out, which is definitely a weakness.
Most of the time, the opportunities emerge out of weaknesses, if they could be identified. Every weakness when identified provides an opportunity and the onus lies with us to convert it into strength. Some of the weaknesses discussed above certainly provide opportunity to convert them in to strength.
Firstly, the weakness of limited jurisdiction of CVC could be converted into strength in the following manner:
(i) Recommendation No.71 of the Santhanam Committee reads as follows: ’71. Sub-offices of the Central Vigilance Commission may be established at Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras in charge of serving Government servants of a sufficiently high rank and to discharge such functions and duties as may be allotted to them by the Central Vigilance Commission.’
So, here lies an opportunity to expand. This does not automatically expand the jurisdiction of CVC. Nevertheless, the Commission could perhaps take up the issue further to place it at par with the CEC by all means. Like the CEC is responsible for the State Elections as well, the CVC should be made responsible for entire anti-corruption measures in the country including the States. For this purpose, the CVC needs to be given the Constitutional status with the State Vigilance Commissions under its fold. After all, the money flows to the States from the Union government and the RBI under the Union has the complete control over the States on money matter and as such a simple interpretation could be drawn to this effect and CVC’s jurisdiction could be extended to all States to ensure proper spending of the money allocation. Then automatically, the State Vigilance Commission could come under CVC as in the case of Election Commission. This may not happen immediately. Till that time, the Commission may seriously take all efforts to establish sub-offices in the four metro cities as recommended by the Santhanam Committee.
(ii) The Commission may also consider taking officials on deputation from the State Governments, so that such officials could carry home the vigilance experience which could be utilised for the state governments by entrusting them with the vigilance work in the state government departments.
Secondly, the role of CVOs needs to be reviewed and redefined. The present status of CVOs as ‘Special Advisor/Assistant’ to the Head of the department or the CEO of the organisation needs to be changed and redefined as a ‘special monitor/oversight expert’ who must report to CVC. In fact, this would become feasible with the establishment of sub-offices in Metro cities as recommended by the Santhanam Committee. By this way, the CVOs could be made to report to the CVC through the sub-offices in their respective regions. This would be similar to the set up and reporting of the Audit under CAG.
There is yet another opportunity available in taking officers from various central services on deputation to CVC. It is true that these officials come on deputation to CVC with their domain knowledge and expertise. However, they do not generally possess vigilance experience. In fact, during their deputation period with CVC, their domain knowledge gets amalgamated with the vigilance experience, which needs to be utilised in a much effective and practical way. Here a cap could be introduced. For the purpose of deputation to CVC, there should be a condition in such a way that the officers who are taken on deputation to CVC should initially work in CVC for a period of 2-3 years and then would be posted as CVO in some organisation/department depending upon the need / choice. This in a way would be like an internship in CVC followed by a practical regular work in the organisations. No CVO who has not completed the so called internship in CVC should be appointed as CVO in the organisations. This kind of model is working successfully in the education department of Singapore, wherein the officials who frame the policy at the government level are subsequently deputed to the schools/colleges to implement the policies which they made. This perhaps will ensure that only policies which are practical alone are made.
The Commission could also think of selection of CVOs to the PSEs through the PESB route, wherein the CVC could be made as the Chairman of the Selection Committee.
One of the major threats as of now is the Lokpal, which is in the pipeline. Even in this threat lies an opportunity. The CVC itself could take the avatar of Lokpal. This is very much possible with suitable and pragmatic modifications. The Lokpal can not be privatised and it has to be within the scheme of things and has to be within the three pillars of the democracy and obviously, the executive. Therefore, instead of creating yet another organisation in the name of Lokpal, which would ultimately have to be manned by people from the same society, it would be prudent to rename CVC itself as Lokpal and provide requisite autonomy and authority. This threat could be overcome, perhaps through this remodelling!
Secondly, the advisory role of CVC has also turned out to be a threat over the period of time. As per the scheme of things, the option available with the CVC when its advices were not taken by the authorities has been to reflect such cases in its Annual Report, which are placed before both the Houses of Parliament. The intention behind this was that such cases reported in the Annual Report are deliberated and debated in the Parliament so that the authorities concerned are pulled up and held accountable for their (in)action. Unfortunately, as is witnessed, there has been hardly any discussion on the Annual Report of CVC in the Parliament. An easy parallel could be drawn between annual report of CAG and CVC to observe the contrast. This certainly is a major threat. Unless the Annual Reports of CVC are taken seriously and debated in the Parliament, the whole effort of the CVC and its extended hands, i.e. the CVOs would not yield result, particularly when the role of CVC and CVO are advisory in nature. This threat could be overcome only when the CVC gets the Constitutional authority like the CEC and the CAG.
As indicated in the beginning of this article, this is a humble attempt made by patriotic citizen who has greater concern on the reputation of the country which would come in the way of development. The above SWOT analysis done in a very limited way itself throws open many areas which on modification would make CVC a much stronger and effective body. Nevertheless, a further detailed and elaborate SWOT analysis would perhaps, make it realise the immense potential and capabilities to restore values in Indian society, as the Jambavan did to Hanuman!