Thursday, February 3, 2011

Key factors ignored in CVC pick: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday acknowledged P J Thomas’s honesty but repeatedly questioned the government — Was his appointment as Chief Vigilance Commissioner vitiated because the selection committee did not consider vital factors including the pending chargesheet in the palmolein import scam?

“If uncontrovertible facts — pending chargesheet, sanction granted by Kerala government for his prosecution and the high court upholding the scrapping of the decision to withdraw prosecution — have not been taken into account, can we not say the process is vitiated,” asked the court.

“Apart from impeccable integrity and outstanding track record, the CVC has to be immune from the influence of political masters. If these uncontrovertible factors, relevant to suitability, are not considered, can the court not say non-consideration vitiated the selection process,” asked a Bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar.

“What about the stigma of a pending chargesheet? Is this not part of a person’s suitability for a post like CVC? In case of a normal promotion, pending chargesheet is considered a stigma in government circles,” it said.

In addition, attorney general G E Vahanvati conceded on behalf of the Centre that Thomas’s bio-data alone was placed before the committee comprising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and it did not mention about his stint as Kerala food and civil supplies secretary during 1990-91 when palmolein was imported.

When both Vahanvati and Thomas’s counsel senior advocate K K Venugopal argued that his suitability for CVC post was within the executive’s discretion and fell outside judicial review, the Bench asked, “We can determine validity of a constitutional amendment, but not the suitability for CVC post?”

The AG and Venugopal laboured to meet the court’s queries and said Thomas was a victim of a political battle between Congress’s K Karunakaran and CPM’s V S Achuthanandan despite his impeccable integrity and unblemished career.

The CJI agreed on Thomas’s personal track record and said, “There is not even a murmur that he has taken any pecuniary advantage.” Petitioner NGO’s counsel Prashant Bhushan too conceded that Thomas personally might not have taken bribes but maintained he was not suitable for the sensitive post.

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