SC issues notice to CVC, Government

A PIL was filed challenging the appointment of PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner.

New Delhi: After its stinging remarks, the
Supreme Court today asked controversial bureaucrat P J Thomas
to explain his continuance as Central Vigilance Commissioner
despite facing a corruption case in a Kerala court.

The apex court also issued notice to the government on the petition challenging the appointment of Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner on the ground that he is
facing corruption charges.

The court listed the matter for final hearing on January 27.

"We have gone through the file, we will keep the matter for final hearing," a bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia said seeking response from the government and Thomas on the petitions challenging his appointment as CVC.

Attorney General GE Vahanvati accepted the notice on behalf of the government but declined to accept it on behalf of Thomas.

"I cannot accept notice on behalf of Thomas," the AG said when advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation submitted that Vahanvati can accept the notice for all the respondents.

The bench also said that it wants to keep the matter for final hearing immediately.

The AG sought six weeks to file response to the notice.

Bhushan said that it was a serious matter about a crucial post and wanted the matter to be taken up earlier.

He submitted that he will serve the notice to Thomas tomorrow itself. The court posted the matter for January 27 saying that all the pleadings in the matter has to be completed by the next date of hearing.

The bench also comprising justices KS Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar directed the apex court registry that the file relating to the appointment of CVC which it had called for be returned in the course of day to the government.

Thomas was appointed as CVC on September 7 this year. CPIL and some other imminent persons including former chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh have challenged his
appointment as CVC.

The two PILs--one filed by an NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation and other by the former CEC—had contended that Thomas was considered for the crucial post
despite objection from the Leader of the Opposition who was part of a high-power 3-member committee for the appointment of CVC.

The petitioners had contended that Thomas could not be considered as a person of "impeccable integrity" as he was chargesheeted in the Palmoleine import scam when he was Kerala`s secretary in the state Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies and had secured bail from the local court.

The PILs said he also could not be appointed as CVC on account of "conflict of interest" as till recently he was serving as the Secretary in Telecom Ministry and there was
allegation that he was involved in the "cover-up" of the 2G spectrum scam, which, according to the petitioners, has caused a loss of Rs 70,000 crore to the state exchequer.

The civil societies have sought the court`s direction to declare Thomas` appointment as illegal on the ground that there was alleged violation of Section 4 of Central Vigilance
Commission Act as the Prime Minister and the Home Minister insisted on his name despite objection by the Leader of the Opposition, which shows the government had decided in advance to appoint him.

"The Prime Minister and the Home Minister recommended the name of Thomas for selection despite the fact that the Leader of the Opposition objected to his name being selected. So, the Leader of Opposition was forced to record her dissent. Hence, her presence was rendered meaningless in the appointment," the petition alleged.

It further said, "When the country`s highest court and Parliament held that the CVC would be selected by the three-member committee including the Leader of the Opposition, it was patently obvious that the said committee would decide by unanimity or consensus. It was nowhere said that the committee would decide by majority.

"The latter interpretation would make the presence of the Leader of the Opposition meaningless as the Prime Minister and the Home Minister would always be ad-idem and the person selected would be a government nominee. Therefore, the manner
in which Thomas was selected makes his appointment illegal, bad in law and hence void ab-initio," it said.

During the last hearing, the apex court had raised serious questions over how Thomas could be appointed as CVC and continue in the post despite a corruption case pending
against him.

The bench had observed that Thomas as the CVC will himself feel embarrassed due to the pending criminal case against him as in every case the CBI will be dealing with him.

"Without looking into the file, we are concerned that if a person is an accused in a criminal case how will he function as CVC," it had observed after the AG placed records
of documents pertaining to Thomas`s appointment in a sealed cover.

"We will sit together and go through the file," the bench had said.

After the file was placed before it, the bench had queried whether the eligibility criteria of having impeccable integrity has been met by Thomas before he was appointed as
CVC.

The bench had told Vahanvati that the issue as to how Thomas will function as CVC when his name is there in a chargesheet will crop up at every stage.

"Let us proceed on assumption that at every stage there will be allegations that you should not process a file as Central Vigilance Commissioner as you are accused in a
criminal case. How will you function as CVC?," the bench had asked, adding "In every case the CBI has to report to him."

"Under the service jurisprudence, a person cannot even be considered for promotions when a chargesheet is pending against him," the bench had said.

"At this stage, as a chargesheet is pending against him since 2002, he is not even considered to be promoted. We are only suggesting whether he will be able to function as
CVC. He himself will be an embarrassment," it said.

"Since this matter is very important, we will structure our order on this basis," the bench had said.

The bench had also clarified that it was not on the merits of the palmolein import case but it only wanted to know if the whole procedure including the criteria of impeccable
integrity was followed in the appointment of Thomas as CVC.

Vahanvati had earlier maintained that whole process was followed and told the court that if the kind of allegations against Thomas are taken into consideration, every judicial appointment may come into scrutiny.

Prashant Bhushan, counsel for CPIL, told reporters outside the apex court that, "having tried to cover up the scandal as Telecom Secretary, Thomas cannot be expected to
impartially supervise the CBI investigation into the 2G spectrum allocation scam".

He said the Centre cannot remove the CVC except by way of impeachment and the court can move in this direction by issuing a writ of quo warrant.

PTI

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