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Indian Court Rejects Anti-Graft Chief's Controversial Appointment

In India, the government has suffered another major embarrassment, with the supreme court striking down its controversial appointment of the country’s anti-graft chief. The government is under attack for not doing enough to crack down on corruption.

Overturning the appointment of Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas Thursday, the supreme court said it was made without taking into account that he, himself, faces corruption charges.

Thomas resigned after the supreme court announced its decision.

The supreme court said that it is important that the anti-corruption watchdog should be headed by a person of impeccable integrity, so that it can function as a "premier institution for anti-corruption in the country."

Prashant Bhushan is a lawyer who filed a petition against Thomas’s appointment in the supreme court.

"The court has underlined the importance of having independent, robust and competent institutions to fight against corruption," Bhushan said. "The court has said that this is very important and imperative in the current situation in this country."

There has been a huge furor over last year's appointment of Thomas as head of the country’s main anti-corruption watchdog.

Thomas had been charged for his role in the import of palm oil in 1992 in the state of Kerala, when he was a state official. The oil was alleged to have been bought from Malaysia at high prices.Thomas denies any wrongdoing.

But opposition parties say a person facing corruption charges is not suitable to investigate some of the biggest graft scandals the country has seen. These include contracts awarded for last year’s Commonwealth Games, sale of telecom spectrum to companies at cheap prices and a scam involving a housing project meant for war widows.

The government had defended its decision to name him, saying it was not aware of the charges against him.

The leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Arun Jaitley, told parliament that the government must explain to the country how it selected Thomas.

"In one sense it vindicates our great national aspiration," Jaitley said. "It is a serious stricture against the government and, therefore, is the government going to fix accountability for how and why this happened?”

Thomas was appointed by a high-ranking panel which includes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The overturning of Thomas’s appointment is another setback for Mr. Singh. He is thought to be one of India’s most honest politicians. But he faces rising criticism for being a weak leader and not doing enough to ensure a clean administration.