New Delhi: The Central Vigilance Commission has found alleged irregularities in the empanelment of counsel by Law Ministry to assist it in various legal matters.
According to a preliminary investigation done by the anti-corruption watchdog, advocates were being empanelled on the basis of political recommendations and there were instances of improper work allocation-- for revenue and non-revenue matters-- among them.
The probe, which began last year, said there was no categorisation available--for revenue and non-revenue specialists-- on record by the ministry.
"The very categorisation of panel counsels as specialised in revenue and non revenue cases was not supported by a due process of scrutiny of experience or profile of the panel counsels. Certain inconsistencies were observed by the CVC team in the categorisation of panel counsels as revenue specialist," the report said.
The irregularities were noted in Judicial Section under the Department of Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Law and Justice which is responsible for the appointment of law officers.
As per the norms, advocates are empanelled as panel counsels to assist the law officers in dealing with the litigations on behalf of Central government. The empanelment of advocates is done in three categories--Panel-A, Panel-B and Panel-C--as per their seniority and experience.
"Examination by the CVC team showed that the empanelment of advocates as panel counsels by the judicial section of the Department of Legal Affairs was based largely on recommendations.
"Recommendations from very important persons viz. Solicitors or Additional Solicitors General of India, Ministers, Members of Parliament and other prominent persons were received by the Minister of Law and Justice and sometimes by the Secretary of the Department," it said in its report which has yet not reached its logical conclusion.
The report claimed that on the recommendation letters received by the Minister of Law and Justice, the Minister had remarked "please appoint" or "please renew", based on which the Judicial Section had put up the proposals for empanelment of the recommended lawyers to the Minister of Law and Justice for approval.
"Instances where the recommended names were not empanelled were rare. The CVC team observed that there was no process of due diligence to ascertain the merit and suitability of the recommended advocates before considering them for empanelment. The system derived assurance about the suitability of a lawyer solely from the recommendation of the VIPs and the discretion of the Minister of Law and Justice.
"It may therefore be concluded that the procedure adopted for empanelment of advocates was neither based on open competition nor on considerations of merit and was thus a subjective process. It did not provide equal opportunity to all. Arranging a VIP reference was a prerequisite for an advocate to get himself or herself empanelled as a panel counsel," the report said.
The probe, done on the basis of files pertaining empanelment of panel counsels conducted by the Judicial Wing for 2009 and 2010 among others method, was done by a team of senior CVC officials apparently on the basis of complaints of alleged corruption received by the probity watchdog. There were about 600 empanelled counsels to assist the law officers.
CVC had declined to share the copy of inquiry report and follow-up action in response to an RTI query. "The matter has not reached its logical conclusion. Therefore, the information is denied under Section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act, 2005," the reply said.
The section bars disclosure of "information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders".
The CVC team also observed that there was no system of monitoring of a litigation from starting to its conclusion. "The proceedings register only recorded the outcome of a case on a particular day or hearing and there was no traceability or complete trail of the cases," it said.
To support its finding, the CVC report cited an instance of a case listed for February 19, 2010, Commissioner Income Tax, Bangalore Vs United Breweries which was allocated to advocate Y Singh which was then struck and the name of Yudhister Singh and Yudesh Pal Singh was included.
"CVC team observed that the name of Yudhister Singh did not figure in the list of panel counsels earmarked for revenue matters. Further, the name of Yudesh Pal Singh was not in the panel at all. The fate of the case could not be ascertained as the case did not find any mention in the proceedings register," it noted.
It may be recalled that former ASG Bishwajit Bhattacharya in a book has claimed that the central government had expected him to lose the cases he presented in courts.
"The revenue panel lawyers may be paid fixed handsome stipend on contractual basis. Only genuinely interested lawyers wishing to work for the government will join the panel in such an eventuality. Politicisation of the revenue panel must be stopped forthwith," Bhattacharya told a news agency.