A fresh confrontation appeared to be brewing on Monday between the UPA government and the Supreme Court over the appointment of the central vigilance commissioner PJ Thomas.
Thomas took over as the CVC in August this year.
The court questioned the suitability of Thomas for the post considering he still had a criminal case lodged against him, while the Accountant General, appearing on behalf of the government insisted that 'impeccable credentials' were not a prerequisite for selection to any position, and many judges would fail the test if similar yardstick was used to measure them.
The court was hearing a PIL on the suitability of Thomas functioning as the CVC when he still had a criminal case lodged against him. The case was lodged in 2000 when he was a senior official in Kerala.
It was HT that first revealed, using information obtained through an RTI application, that a case against Thomas relating to the import of palmolein when he was food secretary had never been quashed.
"Wouldn’t it be embarrassing for the CVC to function if people question his power to investigate a complaint as he is himself an accused in a criminal case?" a bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia asked.
"If it (impeccable integrity) becomes a criterion, all judical appointments would become subject to it. Similarly it would become a criterion for every constitutional appointment," retorted G E Vahanvati, Attorney General. The court’s main concern was how the CVC state wing would probe the case honestly with Thomas being the CVC. The state vigilance department is the prosecuting agency in the palmolein case.
Vahanvati was told to reply to the queries in two weeks.
Vahanvati submitted before the court that all the procedures required to appoint a CVC were followed in Thomas’s case. According to him the senior bureaucrat was rated as an outstanding officer when he was promoted from state to Centre.
Before Thomas was appointed as CVC on September 7, this year, he was secretary in the Telecom Ministry. The petitioners have alleged his role in the 2G spectrum scam too. Thomas’s appointment was despite the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha objecting to it.
"The Prime Minister and the home minister recommended Thomas’s name despite the fact that Leader of the Opposition objected to it. So, the Leader of Opposition was forced to record her dissent. Hence, her presence was rendered meaningless in the appointment,” the petition alleges.