It is a matter of regret that P.J. Thomas has chosen not to do the decent thing given the murky circumstances — put in his papers. The Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) may have got a breather with the Supreme Court posting to January 27, 2011 further hearing of a petition seeking his removal. But in previous hearings, the court asked deeply embarrassing questions about the appropriateness of his functioning as CVC, something that can be strongly contested on three separate grounds. First, there is the manner of his appointment. While he was selected by a panel comprising the Prime Minister, Home Minister, and Leader of the Opposition — as mandated by the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 — he was appointed by a majority, overruling the dissent recorded by Sushma Swaraj. Thus the very rationale for including the Leader of the Opposition in the selection process, which is evidently to arrive at a consensus in a non-partisan manner, was given short shrift. Secondly, what possible justification can there be to have a CVC, the country's highest administrative authority to inquire into corruption, with a charge sheet pending against him? True, the charge sheet in the palmolein import scandal goes back to 2000 and the lack of progress in the case has, perhaps unfairly, left his reputation in a limbo. But a failure in the criminal justice system, deplorable though it is, does not validate having someone accused in a criminal case functioning as the country's top anti-corruption watchdog. It also fails to satisfy the Supreme Court's requirement, in the landmark Vineet Narain case, that the CVC must be a person of “impeccable integrity.”
It would be unjust to make any presumption of Mr. Thomas' guilt. But his suitability for office stands demolished for a third reason — the ongoing CBI investigation into the 2G scam. While the licences for spectrum were issued before he took charge as Telecom Secretary, there are legitimate concerns about his failure strictly to enforce licence conditions, not to mention his strong defence of the allocation procedure. It is not enough for Mr. Thomas to have recused himself from the investigation into the award of the spectrum licences. As CVC, he exercises superintendence over the functioning of the CBI insofar as it relates to investigations of offences committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Given this, any CBI investigation into the 2G spectrum allocation will be in danger of seeming biased. The CVC's post is much too sensitive and important to be undermined by an appointment that should never have been made and an indefensible unwillingness to demit office.