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March 13, 2011

Page: 3/36

Home > 2011 Issues > March 13, 2011

Triple setback for Govt in SC
Order makes PM’s position indefensible

THE Supreme Court’s decision to quash PJ Thomas’ appointment as CVC has come as a personal indictment for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose Government has, of late, been blundering on every step. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was particularly insistant on making Thomas CVC. Sonia's peculiar interest in a particular segment of people from Kerala has seen almost all important positions in the govt going to persons belonging to this community.

Thomas was appointed by ignoring objection raised by Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj who was a member of the three-member selection panel along with Home Minister P Chidambaram.

With the PM’s image already taking a hit in S-band controversy, the SC ruling has further corroded the shield of ‘Mr Clean’ which Singh has always used to deflect any personal criticism.

In a stereotype, the PM responded to the SC verdict, saying, "I respect the Supreme Court verdict." Singh’s response and Congress’ subsequent defence of the PM were certainly not enough to pacify the Opposition, though it was equally curious to find that it stopped short of seeking Prime Minister’s resignation.

HE Supreme Court also directed the CBI to probe the national security angle involving 2G scam accused Shahid Balwa and his company Etisalat DB. It also asked the CBI to investigate the arm-twisting of S Tel by the Telecom Ministry during A Raja’s tenure in 2010 to withdraw the cut-off date case.

The Home Ministry had objected to the proposal of the UAE-based Etisalat to increase its stake in its Indian arm, Etisalat DB, citing the Dubai company’s presence in Pakistan, Afghanistan and its strategic alliance with Chinese army-controlled Huawei. The Home Ministry had specifically objected to Balwa’s presence in Etisalat DB as its executive head.

On March 2, petitioner Dr Subramanian Swamy presented the Home Ministry’s objections before the court and prayed that the probe should also concentrate on the national security angle. The court directed the CBI to investigate the breach of national security angle separately and submit a preliminary report on March 15.

Along with it, the Bench of Justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly directed CBI to enquire into a case relating to cancellation of six licences operated by another spectrum beneficiary S Tel Limited in March 2010 following national security concerns.

However, after a month, S Tel was given all licences by a separate order of Department of Telecommunication. The court asked the CBI to submit a separate report in this regard on March 15, the next date of hearing.

S Tel was forced to shut down, when DoT issued a closure of service notice without any show-cause notice in March first week, last year.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan raised the issue, along with Dr Swamy, pointing out this closure notice was issued under dubious circumstance to blackmail the telecom company.

Dr Swamy and Prashant Bhushan pointed out that the DoT orders indicated "arm-twisting" of S Tel by the Government. The arguments in the case were led by Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati, who defended the DoT stand that licences could not be cancelled by finding fault in the policy of allocation. If there was any fault or gaps in implementation of the policy, corrective steps could be recommended by court.

The BJP alleged that the UPA Government wanted a "pliant" CVC as the 2-G scam is under investigation by the CBI and the CVC exercises a decisive influence and monitoring over the investigating agency. After the verdict the Government stands "indicted", the party said.

Unrest in the Government camp was quite visible after the verdict. Shortly after news came in, Law Minister Veerappa Moily met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the issue. Minister of State in PMO V Narayanasamy was also present. After a brief meeting with the Prime Minister, Moily and Narayanasamy met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

et another remark from a Supreme Court Bench on March 3, "What the hell is going on in this country?" underlined the frustration of the judiciary over the Centre’s soft-peddling on the black money issue and its failure to prosecute those already identified for stashing it in foreign banks.

The words of anguish, mixed with a deep concern on the direction of the investigation, came when the Supreme Court was told that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) was yet to interrogate or take into custody stud farm owner Hasan Ali Khan. The probe agencies have procured evidence linking Ali with smugglers and arms dealers.

The court was also upset by the fact that officers who interrogated Ali were denied promotion and shunted to insignificant positions. Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, who is the petitioner filing the PIL, cited the case of Mumbai Police Deputy Commissioner Ashok Deshbhratar, who moved the Central Administrative Tribunal in this regard.

Asking for the Centre’s response, the Bench said, "Either you restore persons you have relieved, or we will pass orders."

An outraged court noted, "We are deeply disturbed by the way the investigation is going. This is not a normal investigation. It is like a friendly chat going on."

The Bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar was reacting to the fact that the ED fixed dates for Ali’s questioning at his convenience and then agreed to all his requests for postponement on the eve of his interrogation. "You (ED) know about his arms deals, smuggling cases and his other connections and still you allow him to come on other day. Whose convenience is sought to be seen," a peeved Bench said.

"We want a simple answer why is there not a custodial interrogation (of Ali) when the nation’s integrity and sovereignty is at stake," the Bench added. It wondered how police agencies shoot down people at a minor protest under Section 144 CrPC (to cause public nuisance), while here, it said, "All freedom is available for these people."

Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium tried to dispel the notion that the Government was acting under any pressure.

Erasing the controversial tenure of PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) from the books, the Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a body blow to the Government.

By quashing his appointment, the court heaped serious embarrassment on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram, who had handpicked the controversial officer.

The court held that the involvement of the 1973 batch IAS officer in the Kerala palmolein import case as a chargesheet accused did not make him eligible to head the apex vigilance body, regardless of his good service record.

Six file notings of the Department of Personnel & Training in all, surprisingly, were not produced even when Thomas was granted vigilance clearance on October 16, 2008.

This was the ground on which the Centre defended Thomas, claiming that clearance given by the Central Vigilance Commission before empanelment as Secretary (Government of India) was sufficient ground to conclude his "impeccable" track record.

The Bench clarified, "If a statutory body like a high-powered committee, for any reason whatsoever, fails to look into the relevant material having nexus to the object and purpose of the 2003 Act, or takes into account irrelevant circumstances, then its decision would stand vitiated on the ground of official arbitrariness."

Throughout its 71-page judgement, the court was circumspect about entering into the policy-making sphere of the Government. However, it clarified that its domain was to examine the "legality" of the recommendation by the high-powered committee in relation to the 2003 Act. (FOC)

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