Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday put the onus for the appointment of PJ Thomas as chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) on the then minister of state for personnel, Prithviraj Chavan, who in turn passed the buck on to the Kerala government.
Singh informed the Rajya Sabha that the note prepared by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) did not contain details about the corruption case against Thomas.
Chavan, who quit as minister of state at the Centre following his appointment as Maharashtra chief minister in November last, said in Pune: “Vigilance clearance for Thomas was done by the Kerala state government.”
Singh’s statement in the Rajya Sabha, which was followed by his reply to the clarifications sought by Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, failed to satisfy the Opposition, leading to a walkout by the Left parties. Jaitley wanted to know who had prepared the shortlist of the three candidates including Thomas.
“The honest answer is that the note was prepared by the DoPT under the supervision of the minister of state and it did not contain this information about the chargesheet,” Singh replied Chavan, said what the Prime Minister had stated was true.
“Names were recommended by the DoPT. (There were) names of two retired and one serving officer, who has already served as a secretary in government of India. Another person was working as chief secretary in the state. When he went to Delhi (from the state) the vigilance clearances were done by state. All the due procedures were followed.”
The Prime Minister said he was not aware of the pending charge sheet against Thomas till the meeting of the selection committee on September 3 last. “Until I went to the meeting of the committee, I was not aware there was any such case ... and that would involve corruption,” Singh said.
Singh said he became “aware of this (Palmolein import scam) case only when the honourable Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (Sushma Swaraj) raised the issue in the meeting itself”.
Explaining why he still gave his approval to Thomas’s name, Singh said, “Since the gentleman was appointed chief secretary, government of Kerala, and that he was appointed as secretary to two departments of the government of India, I thought vigilance matters must have been looked into and, therefore, we went ahead with the selection process.”
Apart from the PM and Swaraj, home minister P Chidambaram was also the member of the high-level committee which recommended Thomas for the post of CVC, despite a dissent from Swaraj. The Supreme Court had on March 3 declared the appointment as illegal.
On being repeatedly asked who was accountable for the incident, the Prime Minister said he owned the “accountability” and responsibility for the “error of judgement” in the appointment of Thomas.