The Supreme Court on Thursday virtually tore into PJ Thomas’s defence, questioning the Central Vigilance Commission’s clearance that paved the way for his appointment as head of the anti-corruption watchdog.
The court wondered how the CVC gave its clearance despite a chargesheet and the Kerala government’s sanction to prosecute Thomas for his alleged involvement in the palmolein oil scam in 1991. It also pointed to a Kerala high court judgment commenting on Thomas’s alleged involvement in the scam.
A bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia questioned how the government overlooked several “incontrovertible material facts” in the process of Thomas’s appointment.
The court said the CVC was not the final authority on the matter. “When he (Thomas) is facing sanction for prosecution, is it in the realm of the CVC to travel into the judicial domain and say that no case of criminal conspiracy is made out?” it asked.
Regarding the appointment of CVCs in future, the bench said it would lay down appropriate guidelines after attorney general GE Vahanvati said there were no rules for appointment to the post.
The court asked Vahanvati to place the original file of the CVC’s clearance to Thomas before it on February 7, the next date of hearing. It also sought to know how the MoS for personnel and training approved a panel of three bureaucrats out of 54 for selection as CVC.
Vahanvati argued impeccable integrity was only a suitability criterion and facing a chargesheet was not a stigma. But the bench said the question of suitability would arise only if there was a possibility of two contrary views. “There cannot be two opinions on material facts. The CVC cannot say there may be a high court judgment, there may be a chargesheet, there may be a sanction — and that he (Thomas) never moved for his discharge and yet there is no case against him,” it said.
When senior advocate KK Venugopal said Thomas was a victim of Kerala politics, the bench shot back: “If the Centre was so convinced he was a victim of a political clash, it should have refused sanction to prosecute him. Or it should have conducted an inquiry.”