A tainted CVC

The appointment of telecom secretary P J Thomas as the next Central Vigilance Commissioner has become controversial with the main opposition party, the BJP, objecting to it on grounds of impropriety. The opposition leader in the Lok Sabha is a member of the panel that decides on the selection of the CVC, who is an important constitutional authority tasked with the responsibility of probing corruption. According to convention, the appointment is made on the basis of consensus, so that it is above partisan considerations and the CVC is acceptable to the opposition also. It was unfortunate that the government departed from this practice and went ahead with his appointment.

It will be improper for Thomas, as CVC, to investigate the 2G spectrum allotment scandal in which his own ministry was involved. Though he became telecom secretary after the allotment, the ministry has consistently defended the allegedly irregular allotments. More importantly, Thomas was involved in a major corruption case relating to import of palm oil from Malaysia when he was the food and civil supplies secretary in Kerala. There was demand for his prosecution but the permission for that was denied by the Centre. The state government was also reluctant to appoint him as the chief secretary because of the taint of the palm oil scandal, though it relented later. An official with such a doubtful record should not have been made the CVC. The leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, has recorded her dissenting view, and the government should have respected that. There were two other senior government secretaries in the shortlisted panel of candidates. Why did the government insist on its decision when there were others who do not have the cloud of controversy over them?

The Central Vigilance Commission has not been an effective body though it has vast constitutional powers and the effective exercise of these powers is very important in a milieu of rising corruption and official misconduct. It has the task of superintendence over investigating agencies like the CBI and is not answerable to the executive. A person holding the top office in the commission should have the best credentials and the highest level of credibility. The government should not have made a prestige issue of its choice and now its motive itself has become suspect. A CVC with less than the best image will only further weaken the institution.

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