SC strikes down CVC appointment, calls it illegal
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Last Updated: Thursday, March 03, 2011, 23:20
New Delhi: Dented by scams, the government Thursday suffered a major blow when the Supreme Court struck down the appointment of P J Thomas as CVC, slamming the Prime Minister-headed High-Powered Committee for the appointment of a person facing a criminal case.

Holding that the touchstone for the appointment of CVC is the "institutional integrity" as well as the personal integrity of the candidate, the court also faulted the HPC's decision to recommend Thomas(60) for appointment as Central Vigilance Commissioner on grounds of arbitrariness, ignoring "relevant material".

A three-member bench of the court headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia rejected the contention of Thomas and the government that the appointment of CVC cannot be brought under judicial review and said the legality of the recommendation can very much be reviewed by it.

Coming down heavily on the HPC's decision, the court said in future appointments to CVC's post should not be restricted to civil servants alone and that people of impeccable integrity from other fields should be considered.

Thomas, a former IAS officer of 1973 batch who was appointed as CVC on September 7 last despite a dissenting note by leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj in the HPC, is facing a corruption case in a Kerala court relating to Palmolein import scam that allegedly caused a loss of over Rs two crore to the state.

Thomas was the Food Secretary in the Kerala government at the time of import and the then chief minister K Karunakaran was also another accused in the case. Karunakaran died recently.

Disposing of a PIL filed by an NGO CPIL and others that included former CEC J M Lyngdoh, the court said, "It is declared that the September 3, 2010 recommendation of the HPC recommnending the name of P J Thomas as CVC under the proviso to Section 4(1) of the 2003 Act is non-est(does not exist) in law and, consequently, his impugned appointment as CVC is quashed."

The 71-page verdict written by Justice Kapadia noted that not only the corruption case was pending against Thomas but there were notings by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) which had repeatedly recommended "penalty proceedings" against him between 2000 to 2004.

The bench, which also included justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, held that institutional integrity of the CVC is the primary consideration which the HPC failed to take into account while recommending Thomas for appointnment as CVC.

"In the present case, this vital aspect has not been taken into account by the HPC while recommending the name of P J Thomas for appointment as CVC. We do not wish to discount personal integrity of the candidate," said the bench.

But, the court said, "What we are emphasizing is that institutional integrity of an institution like CVC has got to be kept in mind while recommending the name of the candidate.

"Whether the incumbent (Thomas) would or would not be able to function? Whether the working of the institution would suffer? If so, would it not be the duty of the HPC not to recommend the person.

"In the present case the entire emphasis has been placed by the CVC, the DoPT and the HPC only on the bio-data of the empanelled candidates. None of these authorities have looked at the matter from the larger perspective of institutional integrity including institutional competence and functioning of CVC," it said.

In the context of dissent registered by leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj, who was a member along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram in the HPC, the court said if there was a dissent note by any of the members of the HPC it has to be given with sufficient reasons and has to be considered by the majority.

Further, the majority should also give reasons for their decision as this will lead to a transparent process in public interest and also inspire public confidence.

"The decision to recommend has got to be an informed decision keeping in mind the fact that CVC as an institution has to perform an important function of vigilance administration," said the bench.

"If a statutory body like HPC, for any reason whatsoever, fails to look into the relevant material having nexus to the object and purpose of the 2003 CVC Act or takes into account irrelevant circumstances then its decision would stand vitiated on the ground of official arbitrariness," the bench said.

"The HPC had to take into consideration what is good for the institution and not what is good for the candidate," the bench said.

It criticised the panel headed by prime minister that it took its decision only after considering Thomas' bio data and failed to look beyond it, ignoring the corruption case pending against him.

"Moreover, we are surprised to find that between 2000 and 2004 the notings of DoPT on June 26, 2000, January 18, 2001, June 20, 2003, February 24, 2004, October 18, 2004 and November 2, 2004 have all observed that penalty proceedings may be initiated against Thomas," said the bench.

"Whether state should initiate such proceedings or the Centre should initiate such proceedings was not relevant. What is relevant is that such notings were not considered at all," the bench said.

Thomas was the Union Telecom secretary before he was made the 14th CVC in September last year.


First Published: Thursday, March 03, 2011, 23:20

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