New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday that he was not aware former chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) P.J. Thomas was facing graft charges until 3 September, the day a selection committee he headed met to discuss Thomas’ candidature as India’s top anti-corruption watchdog.
Singh told the Rajya Sabha he had approved Thomas’ selection believing the officer had already obtained vigilance clearance, after leader of the opposition in the Upper House, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Arun Jaitley, asked the Prime Minister to affix the blame for the recruitment.
Thomas, who is accused of irregularities in the import of palmolein oil as Kerala chief secretary, resigned as CVC last week after the Supreme Court struck down his appointment, following weeks of protest by the BJP, Left parties and other opposition groups.
Singh’s statement comes a day after he said Thomas’ appointment was an “error of judgement” and took responsibility for the lapse. “Until I went to the meeting of the committee, I was not aware there was any such case of palmolein and that (it) would involve corruption,” the Prime Minister said on Tuesday.
He said notes for such committees are prepared “under the guidance of minister of state in charge of the DoPT (department of personnel and training)”.
“The honest answer is that the note which was prepared by the DoPT... did not contain this information about (the) chargesheet,” the Prime Minister added.
Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was the minister of state in charge of DoPT at the time of Thomas’ selection by the three-member panel headed by Singh.
Home minister P. Chidambaram and the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, were other members of the panel.
Singh and Chidambaram okayed Thomas’ selection, but Swaraj opposed it and brought the pending corruption chargesheet against him to their notice during the 3 September meeting. The case dates back to the 1990s.
On Monday, after Singh owned up to the lapse in the Lok Sabha, Swaraj said the issue should be laid to rest.
But Jaitley said on Tuesday the Prime Minister needed to clarify if “he was misled or allowed himself to be misled”.
He asked Singh if he was aware of the chargesheet against Thomas, whether it was DoPT of the Prime Minister’s Office that recommended Thomas’s candidature, and why the government had insisted on the appointment despite Swaraj’s objections.
PTI contributed to this story.