NEW DELHI: Asserting that he had not known of a graft case against sacked chief vigilance commissioner P J Thomas, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday virtually blamed Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan — previously minister of state in PMO — for putting Thomas on the list of candidates.
Although he accepted responsibility for the goof-up in appointing Thomas as India's chief anti-corruption official, the PM told Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that Chavan supervised the relevant note for the selection committee comprising the PM, home minister and leader of opposition in LS.
"Was I aware of the pendency of the chargesheet against Thomas? The honest answer is that the note was prepared under the guidance of the minister of state in charge of DoPT, and that note did not contain this information," Singh said.
The PM said Chavan prepared the note for the selection committee's consideration and also approved a shortlist of candidates. "I did become aware of this case only when the leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha raised this issue in the meeting itself," he said.
As Chavan handled DoPT file work, Singh virtually washed off all knowledge of Thomas being chargesheeted in a case relating to import of palm oil in 1991. "As far as responsibility for the preparation of the shortlist is concerned, that came through normal channels and it came with the approval of the minister of state, department of personnel," the PM said.
In Mumbai, Chavan said the PM could not scrutinise every file but insisted that vigilance clearance was granted on basis of reports provided by state governments. In Thomas's case, this is Kerala. Thomas has been a Kerala cadre IAS officer.
The PM's response came after pointed clarifications sought by Arun Jaitley, Sitaram Yechury and CPI leader D Raja.
Opposition leaders, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad and CPM's Brinda Karat, promptly said the PM was blaming Chavan while ostensibly accepting responsibility. "The PM said the MoS did not present full facts, but we want the accountability fixed," said Prasad. Karat said the minister who did not present facts was promoted as CM.
Opposition MPs pointed out that even if DoPT did prepare a shortlist, how could the PM's own office not know that Thomas was named in a much-discussed palm oil import case.