New Delhi: Condemning the Prime Minister- headed High Power Committee, the Supreme Court on Thursday quashed the contentious appointment of PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) for his alleged involvement in corruption case.

The SC verdict that came six months after appointment of Thomas to the post, delivered a major blow to the Government already reeling under a rash of scams.

Holding that the touchstone for the appointment of CVC is the "institutional integrity" as well as the personal integrity of the candidate, the court faulted on grounds of arbitrariness and ignoring "relevant material" the HPC's decision to recommend 60-year-old Thomas for making him the head of anti-corruption watchdog.

A three-member bench of the court headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia rejected the contention of Thomas and the government that the appointment of CVC cannot be brought  under judicial review and said the legality of the recommendation can very much be reviewed by it.

The 71-page verdict written by Justice Kapadia noted that not only the corruption case was pending against Thomas but there were notings by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) which had repeatedly recommended "penalty proceedings" against him between 2000 and 2004.

The bench, which also included justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, held that institutional integrity of the CVC is the primary consideration which the HPC failed to take into account while recommending Thomas for appointment as CVC.

"In the present case, this vital aspect has not been taken into account by the HPC while recommending the name of P J Thomas for appointment as CVC. We do not wish to discount
personal integrity of the candidate," said the bench.

Coming down heavily on the HPC's decision, the court said in future appointments to CVC's post should not be restricted to civil servants alone and that people of impeccable integrity from other fields should be considered.

"Government is not accountable to the courts in respect of policy decisions. However, they are accountable for the legality of such decisions," the bench said adding "The validity of   this recommendation falls for judicial scrutiny in this case."

Appointment ‘non est’ in Law

Shortly after the judgment, Law Minister Veerappa Moily said Thomas, who was made Central Vigilance Commissioner on September seven last in the face of dissent by Opposition, has resigned but his lawyer disputed it.

However, experts say the question of resignation does not arise as the court has struck down the appointment holding that the recommendation by the HPC headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is "non est" (does not exist) in law.

"It is declared that the September 3, 2010 recommendation of the HPC recommending the name of P J Thomas as CVC under the proviso to Section 4(1) of the 2003 Act is non-est(does not exist) in law and, consequently, his impugned appointment as CVC is quashed. His appointment goes,” the court said disposing of a PIL filed by an NGO CPIL and others including former CEC J M Lyngdoh.  

Controversial track of Thomas

A former IAS officer of 1973 batch, Thomas was appointed as CVC on September 7 last despite a dissenting note by leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj in the HPC. He is facing a corruption case in a Kerala court relating to Palmolein imports in 1991 that allegedly caused a loss of over Rs two crore to the state.

Thomas was the Food Secretary in the Kerala government at the time of import and the then chief minister K Karunakaran, who died recently, was also another accused in the case.

Thomas' appointment as CVC had come under fire from the Opposition which alleged that it was made to cover up 2G scam investigations. Incidentally, he was the Telecom
Secretary before he was made the CVC.

Reactions


While the decision came as a major embarrassment for the government, the Opposition latched on to the judgment to target the PM, asking him to own up responsibility.

Manmohan Singh himself made a brief comment saying he respected the apex court decision.

The BJP asked the government to make a statement in Parliament considering the "serious" nature of the issue which has dealt "yet another blow to the credibility" of the Congress-led coalition.

Senior BJP leader L K Advani said it was for the first time in 60 years that an appointment made by the Prime Minister had been declared illegal by the apex court.

"The Prime Minister and (Congress chief) Sonia Gandhi are morally responsible for it and they should accept it", he said.

Sushma Swaraj, who was one of the three members in the HPC and dissented on the choice of Thomas, reacted saying, "The dignity of the office of CVC has been restored."

During the hearings, the government had tied itself in knots when it said that the fact of Thomas figuring in the chargesheet in a corruption case was not brought to its notice.

Swaraj and Home Minister P Chidambaram, the other member of the Committee, were also involved in a war of words on the HPC proceedings. The BJP leader accused the minister of
misleading the HPC by claiming Thomas was acquitted but he hit back asking her not to make "thoughtless allegations and tie herself in knots".

The CPI went a step further to demand the resignation of Home Minister P Chidambaram for "justifying" the appointment of Thomas.

The CPI(M) said it was a "serious indictment" and the Prime Minister and the government "stand exposed to the charge that they are not concerned with ensuring the integrity of the
CVC or fighting corruption in high places".

CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said, "This is yet another blow after the telecom and CWG scams and after many things that have eroded the credibility of the government."

Raising the matter in Rajya Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley said, "serious strictures" have been passed by the court against the government.

Demanding a statement, he asked, "Is the government going to fix the accountability for how and why this happened?"

 

(Agencies)

 

READ MORE: SC guidelines for CVC appointment