New Delhi (Jagran News Network): Once again coming down heavily on the Centre on the issue of appointment of the beleaguered Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) PJ Thomas, Supreme Court on Thursday questioned over the vigilance clearance given to P J Thomas, maintaining that the CVC cannot be the final authority in giving final clearance to an official facing corruption case.

“Why was service file of Thomas not placed before the committee which appointed him? Did his file carry all the material facts about the Palmolein case,” Chief Justice SH Kapadia asked the Attorney General.

"CVC cannot be the final authority," a bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said while questioning the clearance given to Thomas by the CVC in 2007-08 for being appointed as Secretary and subsequent empanelment for the post of CVC.

The Court also said it would lay down guidelines for future appointment to the post of Central Vigilance Commissioner adding that it would lay down guidelines for future appointment to the post of Central Vigilance Commissioner.

The Attorney General G E Vahanvati answered it is never placed before the committee.

"It is not required to be placed once empanelment is given. Once there is a CVC clearance and empanelment, it is difficult to hold another enquiry," he said.

At this point, senior advocate K K Venugopal supported Vahanavati by saying that Thomas has never gone to court relating to the case.

The observations followed a public interest litigation challenging the appointment of Thomas as CVC alleging he faced a criminal case involving import of palm oil in Kerala.

The court went on to throw a barrage of questions to the government, asking why no judicial inquiry had been constituted into the case.

It further asked why disciplinary action was not taken against the bureaucrat.

The government told the bench that once a bureaucrat is given a vigilance approval for appointment as secretary, no further clearance is required for empanelment for appointment as Central Vigilance Commissioner.

"Once a person is appointed as secretary on clearance by CVC, he can be considered for empanelment and no further inquiry is required," Attorney General submitted.

"Impeccable integrity is an important requirement," Vahanvati said, responding to queries from the bench on the criteria of selection.

But as the bench asked, "Does it apply to all cases where there is a stigma of chargesheet", the Attorney General said, "This is a grey area."

The law officer contended that filing of the chargesheet is not a stigma.
 
The court asked the government if it had constituted the panel for CVC's selection by merely downloading the biodata of the empanelled officers from their website or by going into the service file of each officer.

The court said: "We are saying this because we want to make some suggestions and lay down some guidelines" to bridge the gap between the CVC Act and the court's directions in the Vineet Narayan case.

During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Centre for Public Interest litigation, which has moved the court challenging appointment of P J Thomas as CVC, said various factors about the Palmolein import case were not before the CVC when it gave clearance to Thomas.

The CVC had not taken into account the chargesheet pending against him, he claimed, adding the issue of sanction for his prosecution by the state government was not brought
before the anti-corruption watchdog.

The case diary was also not brought before the CVC, he alleged, contending that the report of the committee of public undertaking in Kerala was also not presented before it.

"The CVC gave clearance to Thomas only on the basis of the note placed before it by the Department of Personnel and Training," he said.

"The CVC cannot be the final authority," the bench said, stressing that the appointment has to be as per the Vineet Narain judgement which makes it clear that the CVC has to remain independent, impartial and uninfluenced by political executives.

The bench, however, said, that in the given case, the issue of charge sheet and sanction for prosecution of Thomas were not considered by the Personnel and Training ministry and others.
  
While Vahanvati was making the submission, the bench asked if the CVC can say that there is no merit in a case pending before the High Court when a chargesheet too has been filed in it.

Totality of the circumstances has to be considered in the case, the bench said.

At this, the Attorney General said, "All sorts of allegations are being leveled."

This prompted the bench to remark, "That is why we are not on the merits of the case but only examining it on the law."