The murky past of central vigilance commissioner KV Chowdary

Embroiled in the ongoing controversy surrounding Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana, the top two officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation, is the central vigilance commissioner, or CVC, KV Chowdary. In September this year, Chowdary had initiated an inquiry against Verma after Asthana, the second-in-command at the CBI, filed a complaint before the central vigilance commission, accusing the CBI director of interfering in his team’s investigations. Matters came to a head with a dramatic overnight ouster of Verma, on 23 October. Soon after, the Supreme Court directed the CVC to complete the probe into Verma’s actions within two weeks, under the supervision of AK Patnaik, a retired judge of the apex court. On 16 November, having perused Chowdary’s report, the Supreme Court directed Verma to file his reply in a sealed cover. In his reply to the CVC’s enquiry, Verma reportedly levelled serious allegations against Chowdary and questioned his integrity as the CVC. “I am surprised that the line of questioning being adopted by the CVC is as if I am already guilty and have to prove my innocence rather than the other way around,” Verma stated.

Chowdary has had a controversial career. His tenure as the chairperson of the Central Board of Direct Taxation, or CBDT, overlapped with the agency’s investigation into the Birla-Sahara papers—a tranche of documents that, among other things, allegedly indicated that Narendra Modi accepted bribes in excess of Rs 55 crore during his tenure as the chief minister of Gujarat. The former CBI director Ranjit Sinha had also investigated Chowdary’s role in a high-profile investment fraud case, popularly known as the Stock Guru scheme. But perhaps the zenith of controversy in Chowdhary’s career came with his appointment to the post of CVC in mid 2015. His selection was challenged in the Supreme Court—his role in these cases and others were raised, but a bench led by the justice Arun Mishra dismissed the case.

In the context of the current controversy surrounding the CBI coup and Verma’s reply, it is pertinent to revisit the allegations against Chowdary. In their book Loose Pages, the researcher Sourya Majumder and the journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta examine two cases that could have left a lasting impact to the country had these been investigated comprehensively—the Birla-Sahara papers and the suicide note of the former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho Pul. In light of Chowdary’s association with the former, in the following excerpt from the book, Majumder and Thakurta revisit the allegations against him, to see whether he is, as Supreme Court guidelines require a CVC to be, “a person of impeccable integrity.”

Sourya Majumder is a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is associated with Migrant Workers Solidarity, a national network for migrants’ rights that is operating a relief helpline for stranded workers.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is among the co-authors of Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis.

Keywords: AV Birla Group Rakesh Asthana Central Bureau of Investigation Central Vigilance Commissioner KV Chowdary Alok Verma Moin Qureshi Sahara India Group Birla-Sahara papers Ranjit Sinha Arun Mishra Stock Guru scam Ram Jethmalani Prashant Bhushan Common Cause Subramanian Swamy