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EDITORIAL: The PJ Thomas Affair

It is hard to explain it in simple terms, especially in a column reserved for the editorials of a newspaper, but to put things straight, we somehow got it wrong when we came out with a ‘misleading caption’ of the lead story of March 10. For those who remember, it was a double decker caption with the main heading reading as, ‘Vigilance reports leave many Depts. squirming with discomfort.” We went wrong in inserting the word, “squirming” and associating it with Government Departments, for feeling ‘embarrassed’ over their failure to deliver the goods is a forgotten term amongst all the Government employees, who together put life into the Departments. Instead of the term, “squirming,” it would have been that much more accurate and apt, if we had used the term, “smug.”

That the State Vigilance Commission comes low down on the priority list of the Government can be seen by the manner in which the various Departments respond to the suggestions and inputs forwarded, especially in cases of bribery, fraudulence and cheating. The report of the Vigilance Commission, which was tabled in the Assembly in the ongoing Budget session, says in no uncertain terms that Government Departments have been playing a game of hide and seek with the State Vigilance Commission when it comes to matter concerning bribery and other graft charges. This in effect means the Government is treating corruption related cases with kid’s gloves.

Even as the State Vigilance Commission has fallen short of people’s expectations, with the Government Departments refusing to co-operate, we need to ask, what exactly is the job profile of a State Vigilance Commission? Though there is no explicit explanation of what is expected from a State Vigilance Commission, what is clear to any keen observation is that the job entails checking or fighting corruption and other graft charges and allegations, especially when it comes to Government employees. As stipulated by the Government of India in 2001, a State Vigilance Commission should be headed by the State Vigilance Commissioner whose rank should not be below the rank of a Joint Secretary of the State Government. The question of whether Manipur has a Chief Vigilance Commissioner or not is a mystery to us, but what is not mysterious is the fact that the Commission has taken serious note of the indifferences demonstrated by the different Government Departments to its inputs and suggestions.

In fact in its report, which was tabled in the Assembly on March 9, the Commission had candidly stated that Government Departments need to play a more proactive role if corruption and other graft charges are to be checked and those guilty nailed. To any neutral observer, this observation or suggestion will definitely sound like corruption, bribery and other graft charges have the blessings of the higher ups in the respective Government Departments. So far we have not heard of any high profile story of a prominent personality being nailed on the basis of the report submitted by the State Vigilance Commission. If the Government is not going to respond to the inputs and suggestions of the Vigilance Commission, then it would make better sense to do away with this Department.

The very need to institute a separate entity such as the Vigilance Department or Commission is more than a candid admission of corruption eating into the vitals of all Government machinery. Why do we need an office christened Central Vigilance Commission, headed by a Chief Vigilance Commissioner at Delhi? The answer should be obvious to all, and the point that the process of appointing the Chief Vigilance Commissioner is not a joke has been amply demonstrated by the Supreme Court when it rejected the appointment of Mr. PJ Thomas as the new Chief Vigilance Commissioner, leaving the UPA Government red faced with the Prime Minister admitting that he was misled into appointing the officer. The primary reason for quashing the appointment of PJ Thomas is directly related to the Palmolien case and this led the BJP to exercise its lung power and find an issue to whip the UPA Govt.

In Manipur’s scheme of things, PJ Thomas is a non-entity; at best he could have found a comfortable position here if he had been in the Manipur-Tripura cadre of the IAS. Though Mr. Thomas as an individual does not mean anything to the people here, the developments at Delhi and the drama unfolding around his appointment are pointers to certain things, which Mr. Ibobi and his men can only ignore to their peril. The Central Vigilance Commission is not just another Government Department, though it comes under the Home Ministry. It functions as a fully autonomous entity, just like the Union Public Service Commission and the men and women in the Commission cannot be taken and treated as full time Government employees.

In other words, the Central Vigilance Commission is an entity in itself with no interference from the Government, except when it is time for appointing the Chief Commissioner. As a Government agency which is there in the first place to fight corruption and give positive inputs, the character and integrity of its Commissioner should be above board. It is anybody’s guess why the Prime Minister was misled into backing the case of PJ Thomas. What happened at Delhi is another example of the Judiciary leading the peoples’ leaders by their ears to the right path. And of course it goes without saying that when the Judiciary and the Legislature appear to be at odds with each other, a certain degree of discomfiture is bound to prevail over the citizens of the land. For Manipur, the CVC story which merited the interference of the Supreme Court should be a lesson worth learning.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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