Supreme Court strikes down appointment of CVC P.J. Thomas

March 3rd, 2011 - 9:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday struck down the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the central vigilance commissioner (CVC), six months after he was appointed to the post, for his alleged involvement in a corruption case.

The court said the appointment made by high-powered committee, consisting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj does not exist in law. Swaraj had recorded her dissent to Thomas’ appointment.

The apex court gave its verdict on a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) challenging Thomas’ appointment.

The petitioner had alleged that Thomas was facing a chargesheet in a case related to palm oil import in Kerala and he was not an “outstanding civil servant of impeccable integrity”.

Thomas was a 1973 batch Indian Administrative Service officer of the Kerala cadre. He had earlier also served as the telecom secretary.

An apex court bench comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar said though personal integrity was not irrelevant, institutional integrity was the touchstone of public interest.

The high powered committee for selecting the CVC had to take into consideration what is “good for the institution and not what is good for the candidate”.

“When the institutional integrity is in question, the touchstone should be the public interest which has got to be taken into account by the high powered committee…We should not be misunderstood to mean that personal integrity is not relevant. It certainly has a co-relationship with institutional integrity,” the judges said.

Speaking for the bench, Chief Justice Kapadia said that the point to be noted was that the “entire emphasis has been placed by the (previous) CVC, the DoPT (department of personnel and training) and the HPC (high powered committee) only on the bio-data of the empanelled candidates. None of these authorities have looked at the matter from the larger perspective of institutional integrity, including institutional competence and functioning of the CVC.”

“We are surprised to find that between 2000 and 2004 the notings of the DoPT - dated June 26, 2000, Jan 18, 2001, June 20, 2003, Feb 24, 2004, Oct 8, 2004 and Nov 2, 2004 - have all observed that penalty proceedings may be initiated against P.J. Thomas.”

“Whether the state should initiate such proceedings or the centre should initiate such proceedings was not relevant. What is relevant is that such notings were not considered in juxtaposition with the clearance of the CVC granted on Oct 6, 2008 (for the appointment of Thomas as secretary in the central government),” the judges said.

“Even in the brief submitted to the HPC by the DoPT, there is no reference to the said notings between the years 2000 and 2004. Even in the CV of P.J. Thomas, there is no reference to the earlier notings of the DoPT recommending initiation of penalty proceedings against (him). Therefore, even on personal integrity, the HPC has not considered the relevant material,” the judgment said.

The bench noted that the attorney general told the court that only the curriculum vitae of each of the empanelled candidates stood annexed to the agenda for the meeting of the HPC.

The court said that given the statutory independence of the office of the CVC, so that it could work in a free and fair environment without fear or favour, the high powered committee, therefore, had to take into account the independence and impartiality of the CVC it was recommending for appointment.

The recommendation of the high-powered committee should be an informed one and in harmony with the purpose and policy of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, the court said.

Thomas was Kerala’s civil supplies secretary in 1992 when the alleged palm oil scam took place. The palm oil case was registered in 1999, accusing Thomas and others of a criminal conspiracy and causing a loss of Rs.2.32 crore to the state exchequer.

The accused allegedly imported 15,000 tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia at an inflated price for distribution through fair price shops.

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