Earlier this month, the BBC reported that an Indian government appointee had resigned due to allegations of corruption. The cynics among us would not necessarily have batted an eyelid, but what made me take particular notice on this occasion was the fact that the person in question, Shri P J Thomas, was the head of the Central Vigilance Commission (“CVC”) – India’s overseer for anti-corruption.
The Supreme Court of India (“Supreme Court”) was asked to look at the legality of the appointment of Mr Thomas to the office of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (“Commissioner”). Specifically, the court opined (Writ Petition (C) No 348 of 2010 (PDF)) on the legality of the recommendation of Mr Thomas for such appointment by the Indian government. In this role, Mr Thomas would be responsible for, among other things, looking into corruption allegations surrounding the recent commonwealth games and the sale of telecoms licences at an undervalue.
Mr Thomas’ suitability for the post was bought into question by allegations around the time that he served as a civil servant in the Indian state of Kerala in the early 1990’s. The allegations relate to the acceptance of a contract relating to the import of palm oil at inflated prices on Mr Thomas’ watch.
The Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 (“Act”), and ensuing regulations give the CVC a statutory footing and also sets out various guidelines for the appointment of the Commissioner. In considering relevant case law, the Supreme Court stated that:
“… persons should be without any blemish whatsoever and that they should not be appointed merely because they are eligible to be considered for the post.”
Clearly, the post of Commissioner and the role of the CVC are accepted as being to promote and maintain integrity. Bearing this in mind, along with other considerations pursuant to the Act, the Supreme Court decided that:
“… the impugned appointment of Shri P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner is quashed.”
Unfortunately, this does not bode well for the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, especially given that he led the committee appointing Mr Thomas. As reported by the Independent recently, he is feeling the pressure from a raft of anticorruption allegations against his administration. It is a shame since Dr Singh has been credited with many of India’s recent economic reforms and strategy. But it goes to show that that anticorruption is to be marginalised at your peril.