Administration of the Central Vigilance Commission has become of prime importance in today’s governance systems. Corruption is one of the significant problems for the citizens of the country and for its systemic administration. The issue of corruption has now become inevitably embedded in democratic countries where the power is in too many hands. Specifically talking about India, the government is vigilant about their usage of the public money, and to ensure a clean and prompt administrative action, we have a Central Vigilance Commission (“CVC”).
The commission was formed in 1964 with the purpose of curbing corruptive practices in the administration and keeps an eye on the activities of the public officers and their official transactions. However, whether the administration of CVC has done good to the Indian polity or has certain grey areas to be filled is still a point of discussion. That’s why the present article aims to make a critical analysis on the administration of the Central Vigilance Commission.
Vigilance when talking about in the context of any organization means keeping a watchful eye on the administrative activities of the public officers and officials of the unit to ensure the integrity of personnel in their official transaction. In other words, vigilance would mean ensuring clean and prompt administrative action of the personnel towards achieving efficiency and effectiveness of the employees involved in particular, and the functioning of the organization in general. Vigilance is a necessary aspect to keep a check on the administration of the system, failure to which leans to waste, losses, and economic decline.
Moreover, corruption is deep-rooted in the Indian polity and it is evidently affecting its administration. Not to mention the Indian citizens often lose the trust they place in the power holders because of this corruption issue and to maintain public confidence in the administration of government departments, incorruptibility is an essential requirement. This is the main reason the Indian government formed CVC to strengthen the existing vigilance mechanism over the power and checks of the administration.
The Central Vigilance Commission was formed in 1964 by the Government of India with an aim to curb the corruptive practices in the country’s administration. A committee on Prevention of Corruption was formed, under the chairmanship of Shri K. Santhanam to advise and guide the government agencies in the field of vigilance. The committee made its recommendations to the government who accepted it and created CVC as an apex body for exercising general superintendence and control over vigilance administration.
The initial two prime concerns that led to the formation of CVC are:
- prevention of corruption and maintenance of integrity amongst Government servants; and
- Ensuring just and fair exercise of administrative powers vested in various authorities by statutory rules.
The Central vigilance commission has jurisdiction and powers in respect of all the matters to which the central government’s executive power extends. It comprises Central Vigilance Commissioners as its chairperson and not more than three vigilance commissioners as its members. It was aimed at preventing corrupt practices by releasing reports on the failure of the administrative system of the country which eventually led to corruption.
II. History of the formation of CVC
In 1963, through an executive resolution, the Government of India established the Central Bureau of Investigation. Prior to this, India had only a special Police establishment under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 that can be used to investigate offences committed by the government officials while discharging their official duties. Later, with the formation of CBI, SPE was made another wing of the CBI mainly for investigative purposes and CBI derived its power from the Delhi Police Establishment Act, 1946.
Under the vigilance commission, there existed the Chief vigilance officer in each governmental department having a number of three vigilance officers under him. The commissioners were empowered to start a departmental inquiry in disciplinary proceedings against concerned officials. After the formation of CVC, the following noteworthy changes were made:
- Commissioners for the departmental inquiry was transferred to the administrative control of the vigilance commission
- Vigilance Officers in each department came to be appointed in consultation with the CVC. However, the role of the officers was limited only to being advisory. Their primary tasks are coordination, supervision, and advisory rather than investigating the complaints themselves or giving sanctions for criminal prosecutions.
In 1998, the Indian government promulgated an ordinance that conferred statutory status to the apex vigilance body CVC with the relevant powers to exercise superintendence over the function of Delhi Special Police Establishment and Prevention of Corruption Act. In the same year, the CVC bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha but failed for some reason. It was again re-introduced in 1999 and remained with the Parliament till 2003 when it was duly passed in both the houses and became an actor. The Parliament has enacted the CVC act, 2003 in such a way that the commission exercises its entrusted powers and functions under the Government of India resolution so that it will be inconsistent with this 2003 act.
III. Jurisdiction and Functions of CVC
The jurisdiction of the vigilance commission is co-terminus with the center’s executive powers; therefore, its jurisdiction extends to all matters. It has the power to undertake any departmental inquiry into any transaction in which a suspected public servant is alleged to have acted for an improper or mainly corrupt purpose. It can cause an investigation to be made into any complaint of corruption, misconduct, gross negligence, recklessness, lack of integrity, or other kinds of administrative malpractices on the part of being a government official or a public servant.
The commission is primarily entrusted with the task of looking into matters of prevalent corruption in the administration. The CVC accordingly gives appropriate advice to the disciplinary authorities in all such departmental matters having a definite or potential vigilance angle and an element of corruption or criminal misconduct or malafide. It exercises superintendence over CBI in the vigilance matters committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and tenders advice at two stages:
- to consider investigation report and advice about the type of proceedings (major/minor) to be initiated, and
- to consider inquiry report and advice about the penalty to be imposed.
The resultant is that the complaints against the suspected public servant(s) are meant to result in punitive action. Relief as such in the vigilance matters to the complainant is only incidental to the vigilance action and to note the redressal of grievances vis-à-vis government organizations or PSE’s should not be the focus of complaints to the commission.
However, with the growing scope of administration in India, a feeling has arisen in the minds of the citizens that vesting of such vast vigilance powers only in the hands of administration has generated endless possibilities and opportunities of abuse or misuse of power by administrative functionaries resulting in maladministration and corruption.
IV. Analysis of the vigilance commission
There are a plethora of issues in the constitution and the powers sanctioned to the vigilance commission. Firstly, the appointment procedure for the chief vigilance officer is not transparent and clear. This issue was brought into notice in the year 2010 when PJ Thomas was appointed as the chief vigilance commissioner on the recommendation of a high-powered committee, headed by the Prime minister of India. Various objections were raised against the appointment, citing the pending charge sheet against him. Later in 2011, the apex court of India quashed the appointment of Thomas, noting the HPC’s inadequate considerations.
The point to be noted is that although there is no statutory requirement on the selection of the chief vigilance commissioner to be unanimous or based on all members consensus, there is an undeniable moral obligation upon the government representatives on the committee not to proceed with the appointment in case the opposition leader, on any reasonable ground, disagrees with the selection of a particular individual.
The main issue with the commission is that it is an agency of the executive and not the legislature. It was created by a government resolution and not a statute. Additionally, it doesn’t have any investigative mechanism, and to investigate any complaints it has to depend on other bodies for their investigation report. With only advisory powers and not adjudicatory powers, it lacks its competency to sanction criminal prosecutions for offenses committed by the public servants while discharging their functions.
Since the commission always has to wait for the sanction from the competent authority, issues are meant to arise. This was well-illustrated by the Supreme Court in the case of Sunil Kumar v. State of West Bengal. In the case, an inquiry officer was appointed to investigate certain charges levelled against the appellant who was a member of IAS. The inquiry officer submitted its report to the vigilance commissioner and sought his advice. Thereafter, the disciplinary authority, i.e. the state government arrived at conclusion and reduced the salary of the appellant from higher to lower in the same grade. The order was challenged and it was contended that the consultation with the vigilance commissioner, who had no statutory status didn’t furnish its report. On preliminary findings, the court held that the disciplinary committee committed no irregularity, and the conclusion has not arrived on the basis of advice rendered by the officer, but independently.
The present judgment has failed to satisfy the jurists on the role of CVC and there is a doubt over the consideration of the views of the vigilance commissioner in reaching a final conclusion upon the matter by the disciplinary authority. If the report submitted by the commissioner is not going to be taken into account, the whole purpose behind having such an apex body against corruption will get defeated. Natural justice requires that any decision-making authority should be made competent and independent enough to make its own decision and should not be influenced by the working of another body. The Supreme Court for that matter has time and again reiterated that the recommendation of the chief vigilance commissioner regarding the question of punishment is not binding in disciplinary authority.
The Supreme Court has answered an important question in the case of R.S. Nayak v. A.R. Antulay, whether a private complaint in respect of the offenses against the public servants is cognizable by the court? The apex court held that the private complaint is cognizable by the courts regarding the offenses committed by the public servants and held that: “the right to initiate the proceedings cannot be whittled down, circumscribed or fettered by putting it into a straightjacket formula of locus standi unknown to criminal jurisprudence, save and except specific statutory exception”.
Since the Central Vigilance Commission is not a legislative body, its current authoritative status is undeniably weak. There is a need for new reforms and stringent actions on the functioning of the commission, preventing the country from falling prey too often to corrupt practices. Whilst, in 2010, few amendments were suggested to the CVC Act, 2003 to include the Vice-President of India as the chairman of the commission and a nominee of the Chief Justice of India CJI as a member of the selection committee. The suggestions were made in line to strengthen the administration of commission and make a check mechanism from the judiciary wing.
For a country’s administrative system to function smoothly, it is necessarily important to have a strong and independent ombudsman system having the constitutional sanction and its own autonomy. Having said that, the status of the Central vigilance commission should be improved by granting it a legal status and by excluding it from the clutches of the executive and politics so that it can act as a strong mechanism to check misuse of power and fight against corruption.
 M.P. Jain & S.N. Jain, Principles of Administrative Law (Wadhwa & Co. Nagpur, New Delhi, Fifth edition, 2007) p. 905.
 1980 AIR 1170.
 AIR 1984 SC 684.
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