Writing for The Indian Express, Shaju Philip has quoted three official letters — one written by Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) in 2008, and two by the Kerala government in 2006 and 2008 — to suggest the palmolein case against PJ Thomas had come to the notice of the Prime Minister.
One of these, the October 10, 2006 letter had already been made public earlier on Thursday, March 10, in which Kerala's Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) Lizzy Jacob wrote to the Secretary to the Union Department of Personnel and Training to inform him that the LDF government had decided to continue the prosecution against the accused (Mr PJ Thomas and others) in the palmolein case.
" I am directed to request the Government of India to treat the (state) Government letter with the request to withdraw the proposal seeking sanction to prosecute P J Thomas and Jiji Thomson under Prevention of Corruption Act as withdrawn and to accord sanction to prosecute Thomas and Jiji Thomson as requested on December 31, 1999."
The current ruling LDF government came to power in Kerala in May 2006. The previous Congress-led UDF government in Kerala had decided to drop the case in 2005 for which the previous LDF government in Kerala had sought sanction from the centre in 1999.
The seond letter cited is that by O Babu, joint secretary to the Kerala chief secretary, on March 11, 2008, in reply to a DoPT query regarding the empanelment of 1972-77 batches of IAS officers:
“P J Thomas Chief Secretary to government, had applied for central deputation in 1988, but was not selected for appointment. Subsequently after 1992, he had expressed his willingness for central deputation, but was not considered because of a vigilance case... The case has not been finalised yet. I may inform that Thomas could not work at the Centre as he was not recommended for the same by the state government.”
The most important of the three letters cited by the newspaper is the DoPT note, signed by under secretary Kabindra Joshi on October 17, 2008 which informed the Cabinet Secretariat:
“Kerala had requested sanction for prosecution against Thomas in the palmolein case... However, the state in 2005 requested that the earlier letter in 1999 seeking sanction may be treated as withdrawn. After ascertaining full reasons for the request, the matter was submitted to the Prime Minister. The PM has ordered that in view of the fact that there are no disciplinary proceedings in the case, the request of the state regarding withdrawal of request for sanction is noted.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 was widely perceived to have passed the buck on to Mr Prithviraj Chavan, the then Minister of State, Department of Personnel when he said in Rajya Sabha:
The first question that the Leader of the Opposition asked was: Was I aware of the pendency of the charge sheet against Shri Thomas? The honest answer is that the Note was prepared under the guidance of the Minister of State in charge of DoPT, and that Note did not contain this information. I did become aware of this case only when the hon. Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha raised this issue in the meeting itself. And this is where I felt that since Mr. Thomas had been appointed the Chief Secretary of the Government of Kerala, since he was appointed as the Secretary of the Government of India, all legitimate vigilance angles must have been looked into. And that is why we went ahead with the selection process. That is the truth as I see it. As far as the responsibility for the preparation of the shortlist is concerned, that came through normal channels and it came with the approval of the Minister of State, Department of Personnel. With regard to the charge-sheet, I don't know if there is anything else that I can say.
With the DoPT note coming to light, there is going to be heightened pressure on the Prime Minister to explain how he could say that he first came to know about the case in the meeting of September 3, 2010 from Ms Sushma Swaraj when the 2008 letter clearly shows his awareness of the case.
Incidentally, Mr L.K. Advani had also told Outlook that the Thomas affair had been brewing for some time. When he was Opposition leader, he had a meeting with Manmohan and then home minister Shivraj Patil who raised the issue of making Thomas CVC. Objections had been raised then too, and in fact Prithviraj Chavan (then minister in the PMO and now Maharashtra CM) had apparently tried to persuade Advani to rethink the matter.
Kerala goes to the polls soon, and the Kerala Chief Minister has already accused Maharashtra's Congress Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of "lying" on the issue to "hide" his fault.