M A I N   N E W S

SC strikes down CVC appointment
* Says selection should be transparent
* Criticises PM-headed panel
* Thomas quits
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, March 3
PJ Thomas resigned as the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) immediately after the Supreme Court quashed his appointment here today, holding that the high-powered committee (HPC) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “has failed” to take into account several factors relating to a corruption case pending against Thomas while recommending his name to the President.

The appointment of Thomas “was in contravention of the provisions” of the CVC Act, 2003, and hence “it is declared” that the September 3, 2010, recommendations of the HPC “is non-est in law” and consequently his appointment “is quashed”, a three-member Bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia ruled in a 74-page verdict.

The Bench, which included Justices KSP Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, ruled that the HPC neither considered the “personal integrity” of Thomas nor the need for maintaining the institutional integrity and competence of the Central Vigilance Commission, a statutory body set up to fight corruption by guiding the CBI.

The HPC, which included Home Minister P Chidambaram and Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, failed to consider the 2003 corruption case relating to the import of palm oil in 1992 by Kerala, where Thomas was Food Secretary, and the four departmental recommendations between June 2000 and November 2004 for initiating “penalty proceedings” against Thomas in the light of the allegations against him in the case.

The SC and the Kerala High Court had also rejected the pleas for quashing the FIR filed in the corruption case and that fact was also not brought before the HPC. The explanation that the HPC could not consider these details as these were not included in the file put up before the committee by the Department of Personnel was immaterial, the Bench ruled.

“The fact remains that the HPC, for whatsoever reason, has failed to consider the relevant material keeping in mind the purpose and policy of the 2003 CVC Act,” the apex court pointed out in its judgment while disposing of two PILs challenging the appointment of Thomas.

“We are concerned with the institution and its integrity, including institutional competence and functioning and not the desirability of the candidate alone who is going to be the CVC, though personal integrity is an important quality,” the Bench said.

The HPC should take into consideration whether the candidate would or would not be able to function as a CVC. “Whether the institutional competency would be adversely affected by pending proceedings and if by that touchstone the candidate stands disqualified, it shall be the duty of the HPC not to recommend such a candidate,” the apex court ruled. The SC also took note of the PIL petitioners’ contention that Thomas “allegedly has played a big part in the cover-up of the 2G Spectrum allocation”. However, it clarified that it was not deciding the plea for quashing his appointment by going into the merits of either the 2G case or the palm oil case.

The verdict was “strictly confined” to the legality of the recommendation of the September 3, 2010, recommendation of the HPC, the apex court clarified.





Opposition underplays its vindication
Faraz Ahmad/TNS

New Delhi, March 3
The Opposition which had objected to the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the CVC stood vindicated today, with the Supreme Court upholding the reasons for which Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj gave her dissenting note on September 3, 2010.

But even as it was visibly elated over this, it evidently preferred a sober and restrained response to the Supreme Court decision to strike down Thomas’ appointment.

Sushma Swaraj was most restrained in her response and ssaid she would wait for the PM’s statement and only then fully react to this development.“The formal comment by BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad too restricted itself to reminding the PM of his remark about the need for Ceaser’s wife to be above suspicion.

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley went only one step further saying that if a regent could be misled he did not deserve to remain in power.

The Left felt doubly vindicated because the vigilance report against Thomas, suppressed to make him Secretary in the Union Government and then the CVC, was lodged by the Left Front government in Kerala in connection with the import of Palmolein oil. Thus CPI leader D Raja felt that the apex court's ruling has, “Eroded the moral authority of the PM….”



Embarrassment for government
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, March 3
A visibly embarrassed UPA government struggled to put up a brave face after it was dealt yet another blow by the SC which struck down the appointment of P.J.Thomas as the CVC in a searing verdict today. The apex court’s order was particularly upsetting for the ruling dispensation as it placed Prime Minister Manmohan and Home Minister P.Chidambaram in the line of fire since the two leaders were directly involved in appointing Thomas after overruling Lok Sabha’s Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj’s objections on their choice of CVC. While a jubiliant opposition predictably sought accountability from the government on the SC ruling, a defensive Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi admitted that the appointment of Thomas as CVC was an “error” but rejected demands for the Prime Minister and Home Minister’s resignation. on the grounds that “it was a bona fide mistake.” The Prime Minister, who is expected to make a statement on this issue in Parliament, maintained that he respected the court verdict.

Presented with a fresh crisis, the Congress core group, headed by party president Sonia Gandhi, went into a huddle this evening to discuss the ramifications of the apex court’s ruling and to draw up a damage control strategy. For the present, however, the Congress-led UPA government tried vainly to put a lid on this episode. “We respect the court order and there is no question of commenting on it,” the Congress spokesperson said, adding that the SC verdict is “binding on the nation, the government and other implementing agencies”. Castigating the opposition for politicising a legal order, Singhvi said that an error had been made, which had been suitably corrected by the court. UPA ministers and Congress leaders privately admitted that today’s development was “not a happy situation” and could have been avoided if Thomas had heeded the government’s advice to step down voluntarily.

Putting up a stout defence, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily dismissed opposition criticism that the SC order had embarrassed the government and instead put it down to a “systemic failure”

"This is a failure of a system in the government and we need to address that and move forward...It certainly is not a reflection on the the three-member selection committee which appointed Thomas as CVC or the Prime Minister," Veerappa Moily said.



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