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'Who Put That Name There?'

The PM accepts "full responsibility" for the "error of judgement" and says he is accountable for the appointment of Mr PJ Thomas as the CVC but leaves many questions unanswered.

'Who Put That Name There?'
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

 

Prime Minister's statement on appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner

Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister

Mr. Chairman, Sir, the post of Central Vigilance Commissioner was due to fall vacant on 8th September, 2010 on the completion of the term of Shri Pratyush Sinha.

Under the CVC Act, 2003, the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner is required to be made by the President by Warrant under her hand and seal and on the basis of the recommendation of a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of Opposition in the House of the People.

The meeting of the Committee took place on 3rd September, 2010. The Leader of Opposition gave a dissenting note. In pursuance of the recommendations made by the Committee, the President appointed Shri P. J. Thomas as the CVC and he was sworn in on 7th September, 2010.

After the appointment of Shri Thomas, two public interest litigation petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the appointment of Shri Thomas as the CVC.

The hon. Supreme Court declared the recommendation of the Committee as non-est in law and quashed the appointment of Shri P.J. Thomas as CVC.

The hon. Supreme Court has pronounced its decision. We accept and respect the verdict of the Hon'ble Supreme Court. There has been an error of judgement on our part and I accept full responsibility for it. The Government will take into consideration the guidelines/directions given by the Court while appointing a new CVC.

***

Excerpts from the debate that followed

Mr Arun Jaitley, the leader of opposition

Mr. Chairman, Sir, I am extremely grateful to the hon. Prime Minister for making a statement on the appointment of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Sir, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner is the principal anti-corruption official of the Government of India. In one sense, it is the integrity institution of India. It has primacy in the matters of regulating appointments to the top officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation and also keeping a close vigil on the key investigations that the Central Bureau of Investigation undertakes. Of late, there has been a feeling that some of our investigative agencies, including the Central Bureau Investigation, have been guided by political agendas. Political agendas have got primacy over even investigative agencies and, therefore, it is for this reason that the purity, primacy, independence and integrity of the CVC is of utmost importance. I am, therefore, seeking only a few clarifications from the hon. Prime Minister really with the intention that this institution of the CVC itself is strengthened so that the institutions that it keeps a vigilance over are also strong and these kinds of errors, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, are not repeated in future.

Sir, my clarifications are:

Firstly, on the third of September, 2010 the High Power Committee met to make its recommendations with regard to the selection of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Was the hon. Prime Minister or the Committee informed of the pendency of a charge-sheet against one of the incumbents who eventually was recommended by this Committee?

Who, Sir, -- this is my second query -- was responsible for the preparation of this shortlist of the three possible candidates? Was it done by the DoPT, which is also a Department under the hon. Prime Minister? Or was it done by the Prime Minister's Office? Or was it done by the DoPT under the suggestion of somebody in the Prime Minister's Office? Therefore, we have to go to the root of the matter and find out who the person was who had prepared this shortlist of these three names. 

Thirdly, Sir, even when the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, who was a Member of the High Power Committee, pointed out that there had been a charge-sheet against the person proposed to be selected, and even sought that the meeting could be deferred by a day in order to ascertain these facts, what was the plausible reason that a person with a charge-sheet pending against him was preferred over two other persons who had a relatively cleaner record and who had no such stigma attached to their name? Why did the Government come with this preconceived notion that it was this particular officer, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Thomas alone who was suitable as far as this office was concerned? There, Sir, could not have been two views possible between a charge-sheeted candidate being appointed a CVC and two persons with a relatively cleaner record being overlooked in favour of a person who had been charge-sheeted.

Sir, my fourth query is that the Supreme Court has laid down a very important principle of institutional integrity in relation to the CVC. Needless to say that it applies not only to the CVC, but it must apply to all institutions which are so vital to our democracy and our functioning. Will the Government bear this principle in mind while making appointments to these offices, upholding the primacy of all these institutions -- I am not naming all of them -- and keeping the underlying principle of institutional integrity and enhancement of this institutional integrity?

My last query to the hon. Prime Minister is this. He has been very gracious enough in his statement to say, "There has been an error of judgement on our part and I accept full responsibility for it." But the Prime Minister with his wide experience also knows that responsibility and accountability go side by side and, therefore, whoever was responsible for pushing this particular name, which could have eventually resulted in bringing a bad name to the Government and also to this institution and to our entire system, must be held accountable. Therefore, what does the Prime Minister propose to do in this matter? Thank you. 

Sitaram Yechury, CPI (M) leader (Rajya Sabha member from West Bengal)

Sir, I have seen that there is one very significant difference in the statement that the hon. Prime Minister has made in the Lok Sabha and in this House today, that is, the sentence that is added here saying,

"There has been an error of judgement on our part and I accept full responsibility for it."

I would, through you, Sir, like to take the Prime Minister back to his days of the Delhi School of Economics. Well our generation was taught, by all of you, that the impeccable logic of reasoning for an economist in investigating any phenomenon is to identify not only the necessary condition, but also the sufficient condition. What you have said today is the necessary condition. The sufficient condition has not been addressed. The sufficient condition is: there are four queries in this that I would like to put before you.

I put it before you in the background of the fact that the hon. Attorney General has told the highest Court that this may have happened because the Department of Personnel has failed to put up the relevant papers before this Committee. That is very strange that needs to be inquired into. The hon. Law Minister has also gone on record somewhere to say, "There is something wrong in the system that needs to be corrected." It is precisely with that perspective that there is something wrong in the system that needs to be corrected; these four questions need to be answered in the interest of the system. First, all of us are aware and this is a fact that needs to be put up to the Committee that the current CVC was functioning as the Secretary of Telecommunication, when the entire 2G scam was taking place. Today, we have instituted a JPC to inquire into that. Knowing full well, why was this not taken on board?

Secondly, irrespective of whether the papers were put up before the Committee, the fact remains that there was an investigation pending on an on-going case connected with the import of palmolein. When that was pending, why was such a decision taken overlooking that fact?

Thirdly, objections were raised by one of the three Members of this High-Power Committee. But they were overlooked. What are the reasons as to why they were overlooked?

Fourthly, was there any pressure? And, if that pressure is there, in the interest of the system and in the interest of our country, the entire Parliament should be told of such pressure, so that we can fight it together to ensure that our system cannot be compromised and its integrity cannot be adversely affected.

Therefore, we have to keep in mind the hon. Supreme Court’s observation that it is not the integrity of the individuals that the Court had questioned, while passing its verdict or judgement or its pronouncement, but it is the integrity of the institution. Keeping the integrity of the institution in mind, while the personal integrity will, definitely, be followed up legally – legally, the case will be pursued; that is a different matter – the institutional integrity, the integrity of the institution of the Central Vigilance Commission, or, for that matter, any other institution of our Parliamentary democracy, to uphold that integrity, it is necessary that these questions be answered, and from the necessary condition, we must move to the sufficient condition. And, this must be answered publicly so that we can cleanse our system and strengthen it.

Finally, who else can do it in a democratic system, other than the Union Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister? It is only he who can do it by giving these facts in the public fora, and correcting the institution itself.

Therefore, I would request the Prime Minister to take cognizance of these four questions that I have put, not just as clarifications, but to, actually, act on them so that we can strengthen the institution of our Parliamentary democracy. Thank you.

D. Raja, CPI leader (Rajya Sabha member from Tamil Nadu)

Sir, my point of clarification is very simple. The final decision was the decision of two persons, namely, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. During the entire controversy, the Home Minister was confronted by media. The Home Minister just replied saying, “Go and ask the DoPT.” If that is so, something had gone wrong somewhere, and the Prime Minister must come out cleaner on this issue.

It is good that the Prime Minister takes the responsibility. It is in the interest of Parliamentary democracy that one should appreciate the Prime Minister’s position. But that is not the end of the issue. The issue will have to be pursued further, and looked into as to whether the Prime Minister was under some compulsion, or, who led the Prime Minister to arrive at such a decision.

It is not that we are asking, but the common people outside Parliament do ask as to how it is that the Government decided to propose such a person to be the CVC. Sir, the Prime Minister must come out with more details and explain as to how the Prime Minister and the Home Minister were forced to take such a decision. That is what he must explain. Thank you.

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister

Mr. Chairman, Sir, I am very grateful to the hon. Leader of the Opposition and my friends, Shri Yechury and Shri Raja, for the clarifications that they have sought, and I shall try to answer them as best as I can. 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. If the hon. Leader of the Opposition wants to raise any other issue I am there to clarify.

Now, with regard to what Shri Yechury has stated, I have already mentioned that, until I went to the meeting of the committee, I was not aware that there was any such case of palmolein and, that too, involving corruption. I did become aware of it when Sushmaji raised this issue, but for the reason that since the gentleman had been appointed subsequent to this particular case, the Chief Secretary of the Government of Kerala, and that he had been appointed also the Secretary of the two Departments of the Government of India, I thought vigilance matters must have been looked into and, therefore, we went ahead with the selection process.

Sitaram Yechury:

We are not satisfied. 

Arun Jaitley:

Does the Government intend to fix any accountability in this matter, Sir?

Sitaram Yechury:

Sir, we are not satisfied with the answer given by the Prime Minister. We are, therefore, walking out in protest. (walks out)

Manmohan Singh:

Mr. Chairman, Sir, I have already stated that I accept full responsibility for this error of judgement. As far as the question of accountability is concerned, I as the Minister in-charge of the Department of Personnel as well, accept the responsibility and I am accountable.

Arun Jaitley: 

The name was not put there by the Prime Minister. Who put that name there?

Ravi Shankar Prashad:

The name came from somewhere else. You said you didn't know about it.

[None of the opposition members raised the issue as to why was it that the same name of Mr PJ Thomas had also been recommended when Mr L.K. Advani was the leader of opposition? The question many are left asking is: Did the PM not come to know about the case when Mr Advani objected and refused?]

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