The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on petitions challenging the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner on the ground that he did not fulfil the criterion of “impeccable integrity” as a charge sheet was pending against him.
A three-Judge Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar reserved verdict at the conclusion of arguments from Prashant Bhushan, counsel for the main petitioner, Centre for Public Interest Litigation; Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati for the Centre; and senior counsel K.K. Venugopal for the CVC, Mr. Thomas.
Resuming his arguments, Mr. Venugopal reiterated that mere pendency of a charge sheet could not be put against Mr. Thomas. He argued that irrespective of placement of all materials before the high power committee, the process of appointment would not be vitiated as the consultation process is independent of the material placed before the panel.
He said the integrity of Mr. Thomas could not be a subject matter of judicial review. Further whether the committee had looked into all the materials or not was not for the court to enquire into, he said and added that in the case of appointment of the CVC, the President exercised the discretionary power and not on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. While so, such discretion could not be a subject matter of judicial review, he said.
He also questioned the court for holding a judicial review over the issue of appointee's integrity saying whether the panel looked into all the materials or not was not for the court to enquire into.
He said once an independent decision was taken by the committee, it was for the President, the appointing authority to decide the appointment.
He pointed out that there was no challenge to this aspect. He said that unless there was a specific bar in the statute that a charge-sheeted person should not be appointed, there was no disqualification for Mr. Thomas to be appointed as the CVC.
To a question from the CJI whether all the materials were placed before the President before she signed the appointment, Mr. Vahanvati said: “The entire file note has been placed before the President. In this case, the Committee made the recommendation on September 3, 2010 and President signed the file the next day. He said that under the Rules: “Once the recommendation goes from the PM, it is binding on the President to give assent and she has no other option.”
When the CJI asked Mr. Bhushan whether the Leader of the Opposition could be given veto power in the appointment of the CVC, Mr. Bhushan said the purposive interpretation would be that there should be unanimity in the choice of the person as otherwise the whole purpose would be meaningless and the government would always go by the majority opinion.
He said if there was no unanimity, the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister could give reasons as to why the Leader of the Opposition was opposing a particular candidate and whether it was for any extraneous considerations.
Mr. Bhushan argued that arbitrariness or mala fide action would vitiate the process of appointment.