Supreme Court frowns on CVC clean chit for Thomas

February 3rd, 2011 - 10:19 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 3 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday asked if Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) P.J. Thomas could have been given a clean chit by the corruption watchdog ahead of his selection despite a pending charge sheet against him in Kerala’s palm oil import case.”Can the CVC say that let there be a high court judgment or observations, a pending charge sheet, sanction of prosecution (of Thomas) by the Kerala government, the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and that of the committee on public undertakings (of the state assembly) (but) I am not agreeing and (will) give a clean chit,” the court said.

“When Thomas is made an accused (in palm oil import case), then there is an application of mind by the (trial) court and the CVC can’t say that the application of mind (by the court) is of no consequence,” said the apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar.

Earlier, the government told the court that there were “no guidelines or rules” to prepare a panel of candidates before the selection of a CVC.

The court’s observations came in the wake of the hearing of a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation challenging the appointment of Thomas on the grounds that he faced a charge sheet in a criminal case involving the palm oil import by the Kerala government in the early 1990s.

“Why didn’t he (Thomas) apply for his discharge before the trial court on the basis of the CVC clearance,” asked the apex court.

Thomas was given a clean chit by the then CVC June 25, 2007 and again Oct 6, 2010.

The court wondered how the minister of state for personnel and training could prepare a panel of three officers for the selection of the CVC merely by going through the bio-data of each of the officers and not perusing their service file.

The court also inquired from Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati if the CVC report giving clean chit to Thomas was placed before the selection committee comprising the prime minister, the home minister and the leader of opposition.

“The CVC is not the final authority. The next authority should have taken a view about the charge,” the court said.

Pointing to the CVC’s finding that there was no conspiracy in the palm oil import case, the court asked: “How could CVC give a finding that there was no conspiracy under section 120 IPC (Indian Penal Code). Can the CVC travel into the realm of judicial adjudication?”

“If the central government was so convinced that Thomas was not guilty, it could have withdrawn the case or held an independent inquiry,” the court said.

Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, arguing for Thomas, said: “It is the misfortune of this officer that he is universally recognised as an honest officer, yet he is a victim of political controversy.”

Chief Justice Kapadia said: “When the political see-saw was going on, then it became all the more important to hold an independent inquiry to give a finding.”

The chief justice said: “What prevented the centre from saying that we will not go for the prosecution of Thomas as he was a victim of political see-saw.”

Opposing the petition challenging the appointment of Thomas as CVC, Vahanvati said that there was nothing in the appointment of Thomas that made it contrary to the statutory provisions.

He said that “while the eligibility goes to the condition of appointment, the suitability is the ability of an officer to discharge the responsibility of his office.”

The attorney general said that “impeccable integrity is undoubtedly an essential requirement in all appointments but integrity falls in the realm of suitability” and the same falls “within the domain of the appointing authority and could not be raised in any judicial proceedings”.

The court said: “Are we not right in saying that the object of Vineet Narain judgment (of 1997 related with a money laundering case) was to have a CVC who is an outstanding civil servant of impeccable integrity and mere absence of one sentence that this should be incorporated in the CVC Act is being taken advantage of.”

“Can we read the CVC Act in the light of the judgment and if there is a gap then can’t it be bridged by further directions,” asked the court.

The matter will come up for further hearing on Monday.

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