New Delhi: Dealing a big blow to UPA government, the Supreme Court today quashed the appointment of P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner, holding that the recommendation made by the high-powered panel–headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh–did not consider the relevant material and therefore its advice ”does not exist in law”.
60-year-old Thomas, facing a corruption case in a Kerala court relating to Palmolein import scam, resigned immediately after the apex court gave its keenly awaited verdict, just six months after the former bureaucrat was appointed as the 14th CVC.
“He has resigned. The Supreme Court has also held his appointment as illegal,” Law Minister Veerappa Moily told reporters.
A bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatantra Kumar said, “We declare that the recommendation made by the high-powered committee is non-est in law. Which means that the recommendations made on September 3, 2010 does not exist in law. Consequently, the appointment of Thomas goes.”
In comments that came as an embarassment for the prime minister, the bench severely criticised the committee for not considering the relevant material including the pending criminal case against Thomas in the Palmolein import case and the recommendations of the DoPT between 2000-04 for initiating disciplinary proceedings against him.
“It is the duty of the high-powered committee (HPC) to not to recommend the name of a person who can affect the institutional integrity of the CVC,” the bench said, adding the institutional integrity and the integrity of a person holding the post of CVC is the touchstone of the office under the CVC Act.
The court said the HPC failed to consider relevant material against Thomas and the entire focus was on his bio-data and none of the government bodies including the DoPT focussed on larger issue of institutional integrity
The apex court said that if the selection process adversely affects the institution then it is the duty of the authority not to recommend such persons and in the present case, this vital aspect was not taken into account by the HPC.
The court rejected the contention of Thomas and the government that the appointment of CVC cannot be brought under judicial review and said the legality of the recommendation can very much be reviewed by it.
The bench also rejected the government’s contention that vigilance clearance given by the CVC in 2008 was the basis for empanelment of Thomas as a candidate for the post of the CVC.
While observing that the touchstone for the appointment of CVC is the institutional integrity as well as the personal integrity of the candidate, the court said in future, appointments should not be restricted to civil servants alone but people of impeccable integrity from other fields should also be considered.
The bench said if there is a dissent note by any of the three members of the high-power panel, it has to be given with sufficient reasons and has to be considered by a majority.
Further, the majority should also give reasons for their decision as this will lead to a transparent process in public interest and also inspire public confidence, it said.
While not considering the relevant material of the DoPT, the bench said, “It is surprising that there were notings by the DoPT between 2000 and 2004 and all observed that penalty proceedings be instituted against Thomas. Such notings were not considered in the case of Thomas, who was given the CVC’s clearance on September 6, 2008.
“No reference of such notings made between 2000 and 2004 is there. Therefore, on personal integrity, HPC did not consider the relevant material.
“We are concerned with the institution and its integrity but not with the individual,” the bench said, adding the impartiality of the institution has to be maintained which is envisaged in the CVC Act.
The court scrapped Thomas’ appointment as CVC on a PIL by civil society, Center for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) and retired bureaucrats and police officials, including former Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh, challenging his appointment in view of a criminal case pending against him in a Kerala court.
Thomas was appointed CVC on September 7 last year.Opposing the petitions seeking his removal, Thomas had contended that he was appointed as the CVC after the vigilance clearance given to him for his appointment as secretary in the Union government and he needed no further vigilance clearance before his appointment as the CVC .