New Delhi, Nov 22: The UPA government faced further embarassment today when the Supreme Court raised questions about the controversial appointment of P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner(CVC) who is an accused in a criminal case.
Thomas, till recently Secretary in the Union Telecom Ministry which is at the centre of the 2G spectrum storm, was appointed CVC on September 7 this year by a three-member panel consisting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia also wryly 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. Thomas figures in the chargesheet filed in a vigilance court in Kerala in the palmolein import case which is due to come up again soon.
"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 observed after Attorney General G E Vahanvati placed records of documents pertaining to Thomas's appointment in a sealed cover.
The Court, which is due to hear tomorrow the 2G Spectrum case in connection with Janata party leader Subramanian Swamy's petition tomorrow, had posed searching questions to the Prime Minister's Office(PMO) last week on the alleged inaction in responding to the plea for sanction to prosecute Raja when he was the Telecom minister.
The court's posers regarding Thomas's appointment prompted a sharp response from Vahanvati who said if the kind of allegations levelled against him are considered then all judicial appointments would be open to scrutiny. The AG said all procedures have been followed in the case of Thomas' appointment.
The bench said it will go through the file and posted the matter after two weeks.
"We will sit together and go through the file," the bench also comprising Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar said.
After the file was placed before it, the apex court bench queried whether the eligibility criteria of having impeccable integrity has been met by Thomas before he was appointed as CVC.
The bench 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.
The AG sought to clarify that there was no involvement of Thomas in the palmolein import case and the sanction to prosecute him had not been processed.
"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 said, 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," said the bench.
"Since this matter is very important, we will structure our order on this basis," the court said.
The bench 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.
The bench said the palmoleine case was handled by the state wing of CVC and Thomas is heading the central organisation.
The AG said the former Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh, who filed the petition along with others, had himself prepared Thomas' ACR stating that his integrity was beyond doubt but now he is challenging his credentials.
Earlier, the apex court had decided to examine the file on appointment of Thomas, whose name is also allegedly involved in the cover-up of 2G spectrum scam, saying it wanted to know if eligibility criteria had been properly followed or not. iT had also said that it would like to see if the consultation process has been followed for the appointment.
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 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 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 (apex 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. PTI