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.”

Kosaraju Veeraiah Chowdary, an officer of the 1978 batch of the IRS, is the current Central Vigilance Commissioner of India. Chowdary took over the top job at the CVC on 8 June 2015, nominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in consultation with union home minister Rajnath Singh and Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the largest party in Opposition in the Lok Sabha. He has been a recognisable face in south Delhi’s bureaucratic circles, always donning a prominent red tilak on his forehead in public—a sign of hailing from the dominant Kamma caste of Andhra Pradesh.

Chowdary had held the post of chairperson of the CBDT since August 2014. He was inducted into the SIT [Special Investigation Team] on black money in October 2014, the same month he stepped down as the head of the CBDT—and a month before the raids on Sahara’s offices—but such was his influence in the department that he continued as de facto member (investigation) in the board under successor Anita Kapur. He had even retained his North Block office.

Sourya Majumder is an independent researcher and activist associated with Krantikari Naujawan Sabha.

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

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