In the late 50s, the Government of India acting on legitimate concerns expressed by Members of Parliament regarding the menace of corruption, had set up a committee to review the existing instruments for checking corruption in central government organisations and to advise practical steps that should be taken to make anti-corruption measures more effective. The committee came to be known as the ‘Santhanam Committee’, as it was formed under the Chairmanship of Shri K. Santhanam, Member of Parliament.

A Government of India Resolution was passed on 11.02.1964, taking into consideration the recommendations of the Committee, and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) came into existence. The establishment of the Commission was considered essential for evolving and applying common standards in deciding cases involving lack of probity and integrity in public life. Shri Nittoor Sreenivasa Rau, a freedom fighter and Chief Justice of the High court of Mysore State became the first Central Vigilance Commissioner on 19th February 1964.

"The Commission is a unique example of the Government imposing on itself certain extra constitutional obligations of far-reaching importance of its own free will." – GL Nanda, Former Home Minister of India

In 1997, in the wake of the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in the Writ Petition filed in public interest by Shri Vineet Narain and others in the Hawala Case, the Government promulgated an Ordinance in 1998. This Ordinance conferred statutory status on the CVC with powers to exercise superintendence over the functioning of the Delhi Special Police Establishment. After the Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and with the assent of the President, the CVC Act, 2003 came into force with effect from 11.09.2003.

With the CVC Act coming into effect, the Central Vigilance Commission became a three-member body, with the Central Vigilance Commissioner and two Vigilance Commissioners. The Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Vigilance Commissioners are appointed by the President of India on the recommendations of a High-Powered Committee (HPC) consisting of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Home Affairs and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of the People (Lok Sabha).

The CVC Act confers adequate independence and functional autonomy to the Commission in line with Article 6 and Article 36 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption whereby ratifying countries need to ensure an independent preventive anti-corruption authority in their countries.