Thiruvananthapuram: The palmolein import case in Kerala has haunted PJ Thomas for nearly two decades and the former bureaucrat had to bear the ignominy of being the first Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) to lose his job after the Supreme Court on Thursday quashed his appointment.
But for the taint after being listed as the eighth accused in the palmolein case that pertains to alleged corruption, 60-year-old Thomas had the reputation of being
an honest and non-controversial bureaucrat who rose to become the Chief Secretary of Kerala by dint of his sincerity and diligence.
Polayil Joseph Thomas is the country`s 14th CVC and was appointed under controversial circumstances on September seven, 2010 by a three-member panel headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, who was a member of the panel, had opposed his appointment and had given a dissent note. Union Home minister P Chidambaram was the other member of the panel.
An IAS officer of 1973 batch of Kerala cadre, the Thomas was listed as the eighth accused in the palmolein case that pertains to alleged corruption in import of 1,500 tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia through a Singapore-based firm when
Congress stalwart late K Karunakaran was chief minister in 1992.
Karunakaran was listed the first accused in the case and the then food minister TH Mustaffa the second accused.
The case, still pending in a special court in Thiruvananthapuram, was registered after a Vigilance probe established the CAG’s preliminary finding that the state
exchequer suffered a loss of Rs 2.09 crore as the deal was cleared without going through the proper bidding route.
Thomas was made an accused in the case as he was the food secretary then and a director of the state Civil Supplies Corporation.
He was charged with alleged criminal conspiracy with other accused and issuance of government order flouting certain norms of the time.
Thomas’ civil service colleagues back home have repeatedly asserted that he was an officer of "impeccable integrity and honesty" and a "victim of political
circumstances and deeply flawed and motivated investigative processes."
A statement issued by the Kerala IAS Officers Association in support of Thomas recently said he was also subject of delayed judicial process and media trial that have besmirched his reputation before the eyes of the public.
His supporters have corroborated their faith in Thomas’ honesty citing the fact that he was promoted as Chief Secretary by the present the LDF Government, regardless of the fact that it was previous LDF ministries that probed the
palmolein scam and pursued it up legally.
The UDF Government led by Oommen Chandy in 2005 decided to withdraw the case on the ground that the state had actually benefitted from the deal, but it could not complete the legal formalities as assembly polls were declared in early 2006.
Thomas served as Chief Secretary from September 2007 to January 2009, after which he opted for the central deputation and became secretary for Parliamentary Affairs and later as secretary of Telecommunication and IT.
Thomas belongs to a middle class family from Alappuzha district. A brilliant student right from his school days, Thomas is a post-graduate in Physics and later took an MA in Economics also.
Apart from initial district postings and department level assignments, he had worked as Chief Electoral Officer of Kerala for long.