Thomas out. What about culpability of PM, HM in the case?

Their clean chit to Thomas led to the "illegal" appointment


Prasanna Mohanty | March 3, 2011

The apex court’s order setting aside appointment of P J Thomas as the central vigilance commissioner is actually an indictment of prime minister Manmohan Singh, home minister P Chidambaram and Thomas’ predecessor Pratyush Sinha. The PM and HM are at fault for forcing their way through Thomas’ appointment, despite objections from the third member, leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj, and former CVC for giving a vigilance clearance to Thomas at the time of his empanelment as secretary in 2008.

This will be evident if we look closely the grounds on which the apex court set aside Thomas’ appointment:

* The court said recommendation for appointment of Thomas by the selection panel was “illegal” since it didn’t consider the pending charge sheet in the palmolein case and hence, this recommendation “does not exist in law”;

* Thomas failed to qualify because of pending case and official notings for initiation of disciplinary proceedings against him;

* The plea that the CVC had given a vigilance clearance to Thomas in 2008 could not be the basis for empanelment for the CVC and

* The selection panel and other government agencies ignored the larger issue of institutional and personal integrity of the office of CVC.

It may be recalled that the government went ahead with Thomas appointment despite strong protest from Swaraj. The selection was defective for two reasons.

One, the panel ignored the pending criminal case against Thomas and this violated the 1997 apex court’s order in the Vineet Narain case which specifically mentioned that the person being considered for the post should have “impeccable integrity”.

Two, the selection would be on the basis of “consensus” but the government interpreted it to be “majority view”, rather than “unanimity”. This defeated the very purpose of including the leader of opposition in the selection panel.

In subsequent court case, which culminated in setting aside Thomas’ appointment, the government lied through its teeth saying that the selection panel had no knowledge of the pending criminal case.

Chidambaram issued a statement about a month ago, during his infamous spat with Swaraj, saying: “I reiterate that the Committee was aware of the palmolein case; that no sanction for prosecution of Shri Thomas had been granted since 1999; that the case was pending in the Trial Court; that the Supreme Court had stayed the trial of the case; and that the then CVC had granted vigilance clearance in respect of Shri Thomas”.

All this makes culpability of both PM and HM clear.

As for former CVC Pratyush Sinha, the government also defended its position in the court saying that it was right in empanelling and subsequently appointing Thomas because the CVC had, in 2008, given a vigilance clearance to him. Sinha was the CVC at the time and he too ignored the pending criminal charge sheet in the palmolein case to give a clean chit to Thomas.

This makes him guilty of gross impropriety.

As the apex court has said, everyone ignored the integrity of the institution of CVC as well as personal integrity of Thomas.

Thomas has done the right thing by tendering his resignation, which he has been resisting for quite some time.

Now is the time for the PM, HM and former CVC to own up their culpability.

We don’t expect PM and HM to resign but we expect them to take the moral responsibility and apologize to the nation for their gross misconduct. After all, CVC is the apex corruption watchdog of the country and they had, by their action, compromised that office.

Sinha has retired, making way for Thomas. He clearly compromised the office of the CVC while holding the august office. His apology is also in order.

Here is the PTI report

Thomas resigns as SC strikes down his appointment as CVC

The supreme court on Thursday quashed the appointment of P J Thomas as central vigilance commissioner, saying the recommendation made by the high-powered committee headed by the prime minister did not consider the relevant material and as such its advice "does not exist in law".

"We declare that the recommendation made by the high-powered committee is non-est in law. Which means that the recommendations made on September 3, 2010 does not exist in law. Consequently, the appointment of Thomas goes," a bench comprising chief justice S H Kapadia and justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swantatntra Kumar said.

The bench severely criticised the committee for not considering the relevant material including the pending criminal case against Thomas in the Palmolein import case and the recommendations of the DoPT between 2000-04 for initiating disciplinary proceedings against him.

"It is the duty of the high-powered committee (HPC) to not to recommend the name of a person who can affect the institutional integrity of the CVC," the bench said, adding the institutional integrity and the integrity of a person holding the post of CVC is the touchstone of the office under the CVC Act.

The court said the HPC failed to consider relevant material against Thomas and the entire focus was on his bio-data and none of the government bodies including the DoPT focussed on larger issue of institutional integrity.

According to media reports, Thomas has submitted his resignation to the president following the supreme court order.

PDF copy of the SC judgement attached for details.


Related story
Thomas 1st CVC whose appointment quashed by SC

The palmolein import case in Kerala has haunted P J Thomas for nearly two decades and the former bureaucrat had to bear the ignominy of being the first central vigilance commissioner(CVC) to lose his job after the Supreme Court today quashed his appointment.

But for the taint after being listed as the eighth accused in the palmolein case that pertains to alleged corruption, 60-year-old Thomas had the reputation of being an honest and non-controversial bureaucrat who rose to become the Chief Secretary of Kerala by dint of his sincerity and diligence.

Polayil Joseph Thomas is the country's 14th CVC and was appointed under controversial circumstances on September seven, 2010 by a three-member panel headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, who was a member of the panel, had opposed his appointment and had given a dissent note. union home minister P Chidambaram was the other member of the panel.

An IAS officer of 1973 batch of Kerala cadre, the Thomas was listed as the eighth accused in the palmolein case that pertains to alleged corruption in import of 1,500 tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia through a Singapore-based firm when Congress stalwart late K Karunakaran was chief minister in 1992.

Karunakaran was listed the first accused in the case and the then food minister T H Mustaffa the second accused.

The case, still pending in a special court in Thiruvananthapuram, was registered after a vigilance probe established the CAG's preliminary finding that the state exchequer suffered a loss of Rs 2.09 crore as the deal was cleared without going through the proper bidding route.

Thomas was made an accused in the case as he was the food secretary then and a director of the state civil supplies corporation.

He was charged with alleged criminal conspiracy with other accused and issuance of government order flouting certain norms of the time.

Thomas's civil service colleagues back home have repeatedly asserted that he was an officer of "impeccable integrity and honesty" and a "victim of political circumstances and deeply flawed and motivated investigative processes."

A statement issued by the Kerala IAS Officers Association in support of Thomas recently said he was also subject of delayed judicial process and media trial that have besmirched his reputation before the eyes of the public.

His supporters have corroborated their faith in Thomas?s honesty citing the fact that he was promoted as chief secretary by the present the LDF Government, regardless of the fact that it was previous LDF ministries that probed the palmolein scam and pursued it up legally.

The UDF Government led by Oommen Chandy in 2005 decided to withdraw the caseon the ground that the state had actually benefitted from the deal, but it could not complete the legal formalities as assembly polls were declared in early 2006.

Thomas served as chief secretary from September 2007 to January 2009, after which he opted for the central deputation and became secretary for Parliamentary Affairs and later as secretary of Telecommunication and IT.

Thomas belongs to a middle class family from Alappuzha district. A brilliant student right from his school days, Thomas is a post-graduate in Physics and later took an MA in Economics also.

Apart from initial district postings and department level assignments, he had worked as chief electoral officer of Kerala for long.







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