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SC strikes down CVC appointment
Published on 4 Mar. 2011 12:47 AM IST
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The Supreme Court Thursday struck down the appointment of P.J. Thomas as head of India’s top anti-corruption watchdog, pushing the government deeper into crisis with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s judgement being questioned by a belligerent opposition that also sought greater accountability from him.
Six months after the Kerala bureaucrat was named Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), the Supreme Court said the appointment by a three-person panel, consisting of the prime minister, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and opposition leader Sushma Swaraj, was not in consonance with law.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj had placed her opposition to his appointment on record at a Sep 3, 2010 meeting and her party, as well as the rest of the opposition, had made it a big issue, questioning the government’s integrity and decision making process. The opposition called for Chidambaram’s resignation, but stopped short of asking Manmohan Singh to quit.
As the ruling Congress party went into a huddle over its response, an embattled Manmohan Singh only said: “I respect the court judgment and I will speak in the house.” According to officials, the prime minister has ruled out an appeal against the judgment, which would have required a larger bench to look into the issue.
Though the doors had closed for Thomas, a former chief secretary of Kerala embroiled in a 1992 palm oil corruption case, there was some confusion whether he had immediately quit office.
“He has tendered his resignation and the Supreme Court also held his appointment illegal,” Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily told reporters soon after the ruling by a bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia.
However, Thomas’ lawyer Wills Mathew said: “Thomas has not resigned yet. We have to see the full judgment and study it.”
In its judgment, in response to a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) challenging Thomas’ appointment, the apex court said institutional integrity and functioning were more important than personal integrity though both were related. It said it was incumbent upon the high-powered committee to keep in mind institutional integrity while making the recommendation of the CVC and it should be according to the law.
The court has also laid down important guidelines for selection of vigilance commissioner for the future. They have said that the current practice of considering only civil servants and bureaucrats is totally illegal. This judgement will spur the government to bring about a proper lokpal bill and not just bogus lokpal bill,” said senior SC lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
Striking down the appointment, the court said that the high powered committee, consisting of the PM, HM and the Leader of Opposition, had failed to consider the relevant materials needed for Thomas’s appointment.
The Government had tried to get itself out of the CVC crisis by contending that impeccable integrity for the post was not the only criterion. But it changed its position later by saying it didn’t know all facts related to the case.
Oppn demands
Getting into election mode and upbeat after its relentless demand for a JPC into 2G spectrum allocation paid dividends, there was a chorus for Chidambaram’s resignation.
“As home minister, his duty was to present the right facts but they concealed facts on the allegations against Thomas,” BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said outside parliament, where the budget session is in progress.
“Even when (Sushma Swaraj) brought it to their notice that Thomas’ name was involved in a corruption case, they ignored it,” he said.
His colleague Arun Jaitley said the prime minister should answer whether he was misled (by his officials) or chose to mislead by ignoring the charges against Thomas.
Toeing the same line, JDU leader Sharad Yadav said: “The home minister should take moral responsibility and resign.” CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury added that the prime minister must explain the government’s stance in parliament.
Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, also of the CPI-M, echoed the demand for Chidambaram’s resignation and disclosed that he had been forced to appoint Thomas as chief secretary because of the powerful IAS lobby.
Thomas in hiding
As per Zee News report, Thomas was untraceable for two days before the SC was to pronounce its verdict in connection with a case related to his appointment as the CVC.
Nobody had any clue about his whereabouts and he was finally traced to a church by the Intelligence Bureau sleuths. When contacted by a government emissary later, Thomas told him that “God was with him and he would win the case in SC.” Not only this, the beleaguered bureaucrat had even refused to take any calls from the PMO and the Home Ministry.

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