After admitting in Lok Sabha yesterday that P J Thomas’ appointment as the Central Vigilance Commissioner was an ‘error of judgement’,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Rajya Sabha today that he was ignorant of the case pending against Thomas till the last minute.
Manmohan Singh today virtually blamed former MoS (Personnel) Prithviraj Chavan for the fiasco involving Thomas’ appointment,saying the note forwarded by him to the selection committee did not have information about the corruption case against Thomas.
The selection committee was headed by him and had Sushma Swaraj and P Chidambaram as members. The Prime Minister said he came to know about the case only when Swaraj vehemently protested Thomas’ candidature.
Singh told the Rajya Sabha that he was not aware of a chargesheet against Thomas till the meeting of the selection committee on September 3 last year and that he gave his approval as he believed vigilance clearance would have been obtained as Thomas had earlier served as Kerala Chief Secretary and Secretary in the Central government.
At the same time,Singh owned “accountability” and responsibility for the “error of judgement” in appointment of Thomas which has since been struck down by the Supreme Court.
Responding to clarifications sought by Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley and Left members after his suo motu statement,Singh said,”Until I went to the meeting of the committee,I was not aware there was any such case of Palmolein and that would involve corruption.”
He said he became “aware of this case only when the honourable Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (Sushma Swaraj) raised the issue in the meeting itself”.
Pointing out that the notes for such committees are prepared “under the guidance of Minister of State in-charge of the DoPT”,the Prime Minister said,”The honest answer is that the note which was prepared by the DoPT… did not contain this information about the chargesheet.”
Chavan,who is now Maharashtra Chief Minister,was the MoS in-charge of DoPT at the time of Thomas’ selection by the committee headed by the Prime Minister and comprising the Home Minister and Leader of the Opposition.
Explaining why he still gave his approval to Thomas’ name,Singh said,”since the gentleman was appointed Chief Secretary,government of Kerala and that he was appointed as Secretary to 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.”
Singh,who made such a statement on the CVC fiasco in the Lok Sabha yesterday,reiterated that the selection was an “error of judgement” and he took full responsibility for it.
Left members were not satisfied with the reply and staged a walkout.