If the UPA or the Opposition wants the CVC out it must use due process of law, not insult and innuendo. Prosecute him if he is guilty, praise him if he is innocent, but at all costs respect the office that he holds, says T V R Shenoy
Let me begin by telling you what I am not going to write about: I shall have nothing to say on either of the cases against Polayil Joseph Thomas, neither on the so-called Palmolein import case before the designated CBI court in Kerala nor the one in the Supreme Court that questions his credentials.
Yet, especially in the light of Attorney General G E Vahanvati's intriguing revelations, I shall lay three positions before you.
First, I believe that Thomas is not a corrupt man. Second, I am certain that the panel that selected him as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner -- by a majority vote, not unanimously -- erred in doing so. Third, I hold that it would be a mistake for Thomas to voluntarily cede his chair just now.
Many probably disagree with the last of those three positions, some possibly even with the first. So let me explain each, beginning with the last one.
There is a certain gravitas associated with the post of CVC. Section 6 of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 specifies an incumbent might be removed, "only by order of the President on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity after the Supreme Court, on a reference made to it by the President, has, on inquiry, reported that the CVC or any vigilance commissioner, as the case may be, ought on such ground be removed".
Sub-section 3 lays out the grounds for the President ordering a CVC's removal, namely if he be "insolvent", guilty of "moral turpitude", engages in "paid employment outside the duties of his office", is "infirm of mind or body", or has interests that may "affect prejudicially his function". Which, if any, of these is applicable?
It is not open to anyone -- not even the prime minister, definitely not a civil servant -- to drop heavy hints that a well-timed resignation would be appreciated. Any such suggestion is nothing but an attempt to save the Manmohan Singh ministry severe embarrassment.
Again, as I understand its position, the Opposition never wanted Thomas because it assumed that he would be 'pliable' where the Congress was concerned. If he quits only to save the UPA's face wouldn't that just prove the Opposition's suspicions?
(Let us also all take stock of the fact that just now the Congress, the BJP, and the Left Front are one in attacking Thomas. Given the high reputation for probity that Indian politicians enjoy, can you think of a better certificate for the CVC?)
Let me come now to my second thesis, that the responsible committee erred in appointing him. The Attorney General told the Supreme Court that this was done on the basis of incomplete documentation.
Would it be fair to ask if the papers circulated before the three-member committee were merely 'incomplete' or actually 'doctored'? Did Thomas's bio-data include the crucial fact that he was the secretary, food and civil supplies in the government of Kerala in the period when the Palmolein scandal reportedly took place? If not, who removed it?
Please note that the government of India does not advertise the post of CVC, inviting applications for the job. It is the responsibility of the department of personnel to prepare a list of potential candidates after verifying their credentials. Thus, the flawed bio-data is the handiwork of the department of personnel alone.
And under which minister does the department operate? The prime minister.
It seems as if the UPA's representatives on the committee were bent on ensuring the selection of Thomas. When the leader of the Opposition proposed one of the other names on the list, the prime minister and the home minister vetoed it; she proposed the last name and that too was vetoed. It was a case of either Thomas or nobody, making nonsense of the process of consultation.
If everything is to be decided by majority vote rather than through consensus what is the point of including the leader of the Opposition in the committee?
Sushma Swaraj was foresighted enough to register her disagreement with Dr Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram in writing. That documentary evidence has only recently emerged in public but it was widely reported that the Opposition chose to boycott the swearing-in of the new CVC at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
It is utterly childish even to attempt to deny that the prime minister and the home minister had no idea of the case pending against Thomas. And given the existence of such a lawsuit it was wrong to appoint him.
I come now to my first point, namely that Thomas is not a corrupt man. There is no need to bring in the Palmolein import case; that is an issue before the court and we must all await its verdict.
But Thomas has been in the Indian Administrative Service since 1973. These things are rarely discussed in the media but we generally hear about it when a bureaucrat is known to be corrupt. And I have never heard anything about Thomas making money on the side.
The Left Front is now making a song and dance about his supposed links with the Congress. Would Comrade V S Achuthanandan care to explain why a Left Democratic Front ministry appointed Thomas as chief secretary, the top bureaucratic job in Kerala? Come to that, why didn't the Left press for his prosecution in the Palmolein import case even when the first UPA ministry rested on Communist support?
Finally, please note that Thomas was the secretary when the department of telecommunications earned about Rs 107,000 crore through the auction of 3G spectrum and other telecom services. Not one person has claimed that Thomas dipped his hands in the river of gold flowing through his ministry. Compare that to the manner in which 2G spectrum was given away!
There is definitely a case for saying that Thomas should not have been appointed as CVC given that the Palmolein import case was hanging over him. He himself, however, did not campaign for the job; that decision lay with the prime minister and the home minister. Let them explain why they did so.
If the UPA wants the CVC out it must use due process of law, not insult and innuendo. Prosecute him if he is guilty, praise him if he is innocent, but at all costs respect the office that he holds.