Former cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar had pushed for a change in the empanelment guidelines that allowed former central vigilance commissioner PJ Thomas to come to the Centre on deputation as a secretary, according to documents reluctantly released by the Cabinet Secretariat under the transparency law.
Thomas had never served at the Centre as a deputy secretary, director or a joint secretary and was thus, not eligible to serve in the central government according to the rules drawn up by the Manmohan Singh government in 2006.
The rule prevented many senior IAS officers including former Odisha chief secretary Bijay Patnaik from getting a secretary-level posting in Delhi. But it was amended before Thomas came to Delhi at the instance of the cabinet secretary.
RTI activist SC Agarwal had sought official documents relating to the change in the guidelines after the Hindustan Times reported in 2010 how the government tweaked the rules ahead of Thomas' deputation as secretary.
The cabinet secretariat had earlier accepted that Thomas —a Kerala cadre officer allegedly named in the Palmolein import scandal —was the only officer who had benefited from the change in rules.
Agrawal had to approach the Central Information Commission on more than one occasion to force the cabinet secretariat to part with the papers. At one point, the cabinet secretariat even contemplated approaching the high court to keep the change in rules a secret but was advised against it.
It finally gave Agarwal a set of documents but has removed parts of Chandrasekhar's, claiming that those portions were not relevant to his application.
The documents provided to Agarwal, however, do show that the PM initially in October 2007 relaxed the rule for officers who had offered to come on deputation to the Centre but either were not allowed to come by the cadre controlling authority or were not selected by central departments.
It specifically did not relax the rule for officers who could not be considered for central posting due to a pending vigilance case. Within a month, Chandrasekhar wrote to the PM asking him again to approve empanelment of officers who could not come to Delhi due to vigilance cases.
Singh accepted Chandrasekhar’s suggestion. Incidentally, Thomas was never cleared in the Palmolein case but managed to get past the vigilance commission due to a flaw in the system. The list of information that officers have to provide to get a vigilance clearance from the CVC was subsequently enlarged.