Was palmolein case file given to selection committee, asks court
The Department of Personnel did not place full facts about P.J. Thomas before the high-power committee that finalised his appointment as Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Attorney-General (AG) G.E. Vahanvati told the Supreme Court on Thursday. The department did not mention about a charge sheet that was pending against him in a palmolein import case and that the Kerala government had granted initial sanction for his prosecution, the AG said.
Mr. Vahanvati made the submission before a three-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.H. Kapadia and Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar when it wanted to know whether full facts were placed before the committee for its consideration before the selection was made.
The committee was headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and had Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj as members.
Earlier, counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Centre for Public Interest Litigation that has challenged Mr. Thomas' appointment, argued that he did not fulfil the criterion of “impeccable integrity” as per the Vineet Narain judgment. For, he was facing a charge sheet in the palmolein case.
At this juncture, the CJI told the AG: “We want to know whether the papers and the file pertaining to the palmolein case pending against Mr. Thomas, request for sanction and subsequent correspondence were circulated before the committee members. If the full facts were not placed before the committee will it not vitiate the process of appointment?”
The AG said: “The papers and file were not so circulated. It was not before the committee. The material pertaining to the sanction for prosecution under Section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code was not before the committee. The biodata [of Mr. Thomas] did not reflect this aspect before the committee. This, however, will not vitiate his appointment as it was in accordance with Section 3 of the CVC Act.”
When Mr. Bhushan submitted that Ms. Swaraj orally raised at a committee meeting the issue of the pending case against Mr. Thomas, the AG said the note on the committee proceedings showed that she merely endorsed, “I disagree.”
He said: “It is not possible for me to tell the court what was or was not discussed among the members of the committee at the meeting.”
Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for Mr. Thomas, said the CVC, while granting clearance, found that no case was made out and the present Kerala government had appointed Mr. Thomas Chief Secretary.
The CJI said: “We are not going into the merits of the case. We only want to know whether relevant material was brought before the committee. What is the consequence of the committee not being made known the relevant facts? We want to know if the correct procedure was followed in the appointment of CVC or was it vitiated. We want to know how many people were in the zone of selection for the post of CVC; the details of the empanelment; what were the criteria for short-listing of such officers; the circumstances of sanction/charge sheet were against them or not; if there were only three officers, then on what grounds the other two were eliminated.”