PC bites bitter pill on Thomas chargesheet

PC bites bitter pill on Thomas chargesheet

Contradicting attorney general, Home Minister admits matter was discussed

PC bites bitter pill on Thomas chargesheet

The admission by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram came four days after the attorney general submitted in the Supreme Court that the committee which picked Thomas was not aware of a criminal case pending against him.

Chidambaram’s admission in a press conference here that a pending chargesheet against Thomas was discussed by the three-member panel gives a lie to Attorney General G E Vahanvati’s submission in the Supreme Court last week that the matter was never broached.

Thomas was selected last year by the committee comprising Prime Minister Manmoham Singh, Chidambaram and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.
The Home Minister’s admission vindicates Swaraj who has maintained that the issue over the chargesheet, filed against Thomas for causing a loss of about Rs 20 crore in a palmolein import case when he was Food secretary to the Kerala government in 1992, was discussed by the panel. She has also claimed that although she raised objections, Singh and Chidambaram  selected Thomas as the CVC over two other officers.

Elaborate discussion

“We discussed the names on the panel. In fact, the bulk of the time (of discussion) was regarding P J Thomas and the palmolein case. She (Swaraj) made her points, the other members (Prime Minister and Home Minister) made their points”, Chidambaram said.

Admitting that “it was brought to the committee’s notice during the discussions”, the Home Minister said Thomas was selected because “no sanction for his prosecution was granted by the NDA government from December, 1999 to May, 2004 and by the UPA government subsequently”.

Chidambaram was replying to queries in the context of  Swaraj’s threat to move the Supreme Court against Vahanvati’s submission that the panel was not aware of “the tainted” past of the incumbent CVC.

He said he was not saying the matter was not discussed. “I am happy to agree with her that there was a discussion”, he added.

In what appeared to be a defence of the government’s choice of Thomas, the Home Minister quoted Vahanvati as saying that the question put to him by the court was whether the file related to Thomas’ appointment was circulated among the committee members.

To which, according to Chidambaram, the attorney general said the file was not circulated.

To a question whether Thomas shold quit over the controversy, the Home Minister took shelter behind the “sub-judice” defence, saying, however, that he was responding to queries “very reluctantly”.

Asked whether there should have been a consensus decision over Thomas’ selection, Chidambaram justified his selection by referring to a past National Human Rights Commission chairman’s appointment when two members disagreed with the choice but a majority decided the matter.

Referring to the palmolein import case registered against Thomas, Chidambaram said it case was stayed by the Supreme Court between 2007 and 2008. Besides, the Home Minister said, the then CVC had held that no case was made out against Thomas and Jiji Thompson, another IAS official. It was then that Thomas was granted vigilance clearance (for appointment as Secretary to the government), he said.

Expressing displeasure that the matter was being publicly debated even though it was pending before the Supreme Court, Chidambaram said: “I am horrified that cases that are being actively heard by the courts of law are being discussed widely by political leaders and media. I am disappointed that the courts are not pulling up people.”

Putting on a brave front, an embattled Thomas said he was “still the CVC.” He refused to make any comments, saying that the “amtter is in court”. The controversial and embarrassing issue of a CVC with a chargesheet pending against him will come up for hearing in the Supreme Court on February 3.

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