New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled that PJ Thomas’ appointment as Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) is invalid. The Prime Minister and Home Minister, who were two of the three members of the committee that chose him, have been criticized severely by the court.
The third member of that committee, who was Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, had objected strongly to Mr Thomas being made CVC because he is accused of corruption himself in a case that goes back to the early 90s, when he was a senior bureaucrat in Kerala.
Like Ms Swaraj, the Supreme Court has argued that Mr Thomas cannot be in charge of fighting corruption as the Central Vigilance Commissioner when his own integrity is being questioned.
The government, in its defense, had argued in court that the biodata for Mr Thomas considered by the PM did not refer to the corruption charges against him. The Supreme Court has rejected that stand, stating that the committee headed by the PM should have “gone beyond the documents” presented to it.
Ms Swaraj, who has voiced her opposition to Mr Thomas’ appointment at different public forums, tweeted after the verdict this morning, “The dignity of the office of CVC has been restored.”
As Food Secretary in Kerala in the early 90s, Mr Thomas campaigned aggressively for the import of edible oil from Malaysia. It later emerged that the price paid for the oil – palmolein – was unjustifiably high. He has since been charged with corruption and conspiracy.
Those charges are why his appointment has been challenged in the Supreme Court by different Public Interest Litigation cases.
Mr Thomas has repeatedly told the court that the fact that he was promoted over the last few years by the Vigilance Commission proves that the charges against him are incorrect and should not affect his career.
Mr Thomas was privately pressured by the government to resign, but has fought back. That’s caused considerable embarrassment for the government which has in the past few months been bruised black and blue by a flood of corruption scandals. Leading that list is the 2G spectrum scam which pushed A Raja from the Telecom Minister’s office into jail. Mr Raja stands accused of abusing his position and manipulating government policies to award licences for mobile networks at throwaway prices to companies that rewarded him privately with huge kickbacks.
Mr Thomas was Telecom Secretary till he was made Central Vigilance Commissioner. The Supreme Court, which is also monitoring the CBI’s investigation into the spectrum scam, suggested that it would be inappropriate for Mr Thomas to preside over an inquiry that could subject his own actions in the Telecom Ministry to scrutiny. Mr Thomas then recused himself from the 2G investigation.