Doubting Thomas

The controversy over the appointment and continuance of P J Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner has only deepened with the government’s submission in the supreme court that his selection was made without taking all the facts in his bio-data into consideration.

Attorney-General G E Vahanvati told the court that the information about the pending chargesheet against Thomas in the palmolein import case had not been presented before the selection committee comprising the prime minister, the home minister and the leader of the opposition. It is anybody’s guess if the submission meant that Thomas may not have been selected if the committee knew about the chargesheet.

This is doubtful because the attorney-general simultaneously said that the omission did not vitiate the selection process.

If the attorney-general was trying to absolve the prime minister and the home minister of responsibility for a bad and dubious decision, he has only succeeded in showing the two and the entire government processes and procedures of selecting persons for high offices in poor light. It was wrong if some facts about Thomas were blacked out. Even the fact of his tenure as Kerala’s food secretary, when the palmolein import decision was taken, was not mentioned in his bio-data.

This could not have been a  genuine lapse or oversight. If it was, the selection processes in the government lose all credibility. Is the background check for appointment of persons for such high positions so shoddy? Even if there was no mention of the chargesheet, the information was in the public domain. The opposition leader had written to the panel about the charge but for some reason this was ignored.

It is also known that Thomas’ name was empanelled after ignoring the claims of officers who were senior to him and he was appointed after rejecting more eligible officers. All this only shows that the government had a vested interest in appointing him as the CVC but is now, with increased public and judicial scrutiny of the decision, finding it difficult to justify it.

But the cover-up and whitewashing attempts have brought ridicule to the government. It has tied itself up in complicated knots which are difficult to unfasten. Thomas’ position, which has long since become untenable, has become more so in the wake of the government’s latest argument to defend his appointment.

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