January 29, 2011

PJ Thomas case: how IAS and politicians knit arguments to protect themselves

CVC Thomas case shows how IAS and politicians knit arguments to protect themselves. One after the other, they have not only shielded the tainted bureaucrat, they put him on top of the anti-corruption machinery of the country. Isn't it ironical that he supervises the very agency, CBI, that is entrusted with inquiring into his role in 2G spectrum scam?

This time, they have excelled themselves. Arguing before the Supreme Court, the Government first challenged the very authority of the highest court of the country to look into suitability of Thomas for the CVC post. It gave him also the certificate of being 'outstanding civil servant of impeccable integrity'. They didn't have shame also in lying that the selection committee was not aware of Thomas's full bio-data.

Just look at some of the way the Central and Kerala Governments have been making light of the palmolein scam and choosing not to take action against him, and how the Central Government of today has been defending him before the Supreme Court:
  • As per the chargesheet filed by the Kerala Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau against PJ Thomas, he was secretary for food and civil supplies department during 1991-92 when he ‘entered into a criminal conspiracy’ for importing palmolein directly to Kerala. The government of India, the policy making authority for imports, had no such policy at that time. The imports are supposed to have favoured a business concern and caused a loss of Rs 2.32 crore to the exchequer.
  • In December 1999, Kerala government sent a proposal to the Central Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), seeking sanction for Thomas’s prosecution under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
  • DoPT consulted the Central Vigilance Commission.
  • In May 2001, CVC advised DoPT to seek an 'opinion' from the Department of Legal Affairs.
  • The Legal Department took three years and in December 2004 said that it could not give advice as there was no investigation report or evidence on the state government’s request on Thomas.
  • In January 2005, the Kerala government wrote to DoPT withdrawing the request for sanction for prosecution. The state said, it ‘had been re-examining the case in the meantime’ and found that ‘there was no base for the allegation’ and ‘no irregularity’. It also said, ‘at best procedural deviations alone could be cited against them (Thomas and fellow-IAS officer Jiji Thomson who is now JS in Agriculture Ministry) and no criminal involvement’.
  • In March 2005, Kerala government informed DoPT of its decision to move the Special Vigilance Court for withdrawal of the case against Thomas and Jiji Thomson.
  • In July 2005, in reply to a letter from DoPT, Kerala Chief Secretary said, the reason for reversal of stand was that ‘the allegations of the investigating agency were not valid’.
  • In October 2006, Kerala government made another request for Thomas’s prosecution. The Centre sought CVC’s views and wrote to CVC: ‘The see-saw on the part of the state government should not lead to the end of the career of these officers as far as the Government of India is concerned.’
  • In June 2007, the CVC ‘categorically’ observed that Thomas was only acting on a legitimately taken cabinet decision and no loss was caused to the state.
[Thomas was Telecom Secretary when 2G scam took place, and the CBI [the agency is under CVC!] is still inquiring into the scam and has issued a chargesheet against him.]
  • On September 3, 2010, selection committee for Central Vigilance Commissioner [consisting of PM, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Home Minister] held its meeting. Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj objected to Thomas being made CVC. The other two members ignored her advice and cleared the name of Thomas. The meeting notings say: After due consideration, the majority of the Committee recommended the name of Shri P J Thomas IAS (KL/73) for appointment as the Central Vigilance Commissioner in the Central Vigilance Commission, with Smt Sushma Swaraj recording her disagreement.
  • On September 7, 2010, Thomas was sworn in as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and thus held the highest vigilance post in the country.
  • In October 2010, Public Interest Litigations by an NGO named Centre for Public Interest Litigation and the former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lingdoh challenged Thomas’s appointment as CVC.
  • On 17 January 2011, Government filed affidavit before the Supreme Court, stating that Thomas was an 'outstanding civil servant of impeccable integrity' and 'fully eligible to be the CVC as per the CVC Act'…. 'The question of suitability is squarely the domain of the appointing authority and suitability of a candidate (for CVC) cannot be raised in judicial proceedings. Further questions of integrity of an individual are a matter of suitability and not eligibility'.
  • On 27 January 2011, Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati told the Supreme Court that the selection committee did not know much about Thomas. They had access only to his bio-data, which did not mention details such as the fact a corruption case was lodged against him. Nor did they know that the state government had sanctioned Thomas’ prosecution.
  • Sushma Swaraj counters it and says: It is not at all true. I personally brought this fact to the notice of the Prime Minister and home minister in the meeting itself but they persisted with this appointment… I had even asked the government to put off the decision by just a day to look at the issue in its entirety… They, however, decided to go ahead with the appointment.
India News Today, a small voice so far, has been raising the issue of appointment of Thomas as CVC. Our first post was this: The new chief vigilance commissioner

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