The court asked if withholding information from a high-powered committee for the CVC’s selection about a pending charge sheet against Thomas and the sanction granted by the Kerala government to prosecute him in the palm oil import case in the state vitiated the process for his appointment.
“We don’t want to go into the question of charge sheet pending against him (Thomas) in the criminal case or the Kerala government according sanction for his prosecution. But was all this (information) placed before the selection committee?” the court asked.
The apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar asked: “What is the impact of this fact not being revealed to the committee? Doesn’t it vitiate the entire decision making process (for the appointment of CVC)?”
Hearing a petition challenging Thomas’ appointment as the CVC, the court said that before going into the merit of the case it wanted to know if correct procedure was followed in the process.
The high-powered committee that selected Thomas as the CVC comprised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.
In the wake of the opposition by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sushma Swaraj to Thomas, his selection as the CVC was done by a majority decision by the other members of the panel, including the prime minister and Chidambaram.
The apex court’s query on the appointment procedure came after Attorney General G. Vahanvati said: “The fact of the pending case (against Thomas) was not placed before the selection committee. All that was needed to be placed before the committee was the bio-data of the empanelled officer.”
“Were there only three people who were eligible to be empanelled? Whether others too were there and were eliminated? What was the criterion of suitability and eligibility?” asked the court.
The court wanted to know whether the CVC was a constitutional post or a statutory post and what was the impact of the oath administered to the CVC by the president before assuming office.
The court also wanted to know if other two officers on the panel suffered from any infirmity, as what was the case with Thomas and why he alone was preferred for selection as the CVC. “Somewhere the reasons must have been recorded,” the court inquired.
The court also wanted to know if Thomas had any “experience in investigation or vigilance matters”.
“Does he have an experience in investigation? If he was ever with vigilance? This kind of work (as CVC) requires some kind of experience in investigation,” the court said and went on to ask “if there was a person who had experience (in investigation) and was not included in the penal to select the CVC”.
Vahanvati said that the pending charge sheet against Thomas and the sanction granted by the Kerala government to prosecute him in the palm oil import case in the 1990s neither clouded his suitability and eligibility nor vitiated his appointment as the CVC.
Appearing for petitioner Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), senior counsel Prashant Bhushan urged the court to revisit its judgment in which it had laid down the criterion of “outstanding civil servant with impeccable integrity” for a candidate’s appointment as the CVC.
“That hope has been belied,” Bhushan said, adding that leaving the selection process in the hands of politicians has not worked.
The CPIL and others, including former chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh, have moved the apex court challenging Thomas’s appointment as the CVC.