Central Vigilance Commissioner PJ Thomas is likely to quit soon, top government sources said, even as he put up a brave front before TV cameras on Wednesday, reiterating he was still the CVC.
“Thomas’s resignation is only a question of timing… He has indicated to people concerned that he is ready to quit. The decision on the timing of it is yet to be taken,” the source said.
Thomas offered to recuse himself from supervising the CBI probe in the 2G spectrum case on Wednesday, since he had been telecom secretary in the recent past.
The Opposition and Supreme Court have questioned Thomas’s continuance as head of India’s top corruption watchdog, since he faces a 2003 criminal case.
Thomas said the government had taken the old case against him – relating to the import of palmolein by the Kerala government while he was civil supplies secretary in the state – into consideration before appointing him to the key post.
The Opposition, however, interpreted Thomas’s statements, obviously authorised by the government, as an attempt to enable him to retain his job and promptly raised the pitch of its demand for his resignation.
“There is no other way other than the CVC resigning,” senior BJP leader Venkiah Naidu emphasised.
Two NDA allies, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Trinamool Congress also distanced themselves from Thomas’s controversial appointment.
NCP leader and union minister Praful Patel said the CVC should be a person “who is absolutely above board” while TMC leader Sudip Bandopadhyaya called for a discussion within the UPA.
“This is the end of the road for Thomas in more ways than one,” a senior government official added. Thomas had quit the IAS to join the CVC in early September and has thus rendered himself ineligible for any other government assignment.
“The CVC Act bars vigilance commissioners from taking up any post-retirement posts,” the official explained.
Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium confirmed to a Supreme Court bench of justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly earlier in the day that Thomas had offered to recuse himself from supervising the CBI in the spectrum allocation case in accordance with the highest traditions.
The offer came after the Supreme Court asked if Thomas would be objective in his handling of the alleged spectrum scam since as telecom secretary, he had justified the spectrum allocation.
Within hours of Subramanium’s submission in the Supreme Court, Thomas broke his silence to scotch rumours that he had already put in his papers.
“I was appointed by the Government taking into consideration all these (matters). There is no controversy. There is some old case in which Supreme Court stay is there. These are judicial matters which will be settled. Law will take its own course,” he said.
The Opposition maintained the CVC’s recusal was no way to deal with the issue.
“You go to the Supreme Court and tell the court that he will not enquire into the scam. Then what is the CVC for? asked BJP’s Naidu.
“The CVC is the head of an institution, he is supposed to guide, supervise and monitor the probe and if he is going to do this (recuse himself) then what for he is. This is a way to bail him out from the present situation and to bail out the government from embarrassment”, Naidu said.