New Delhi: President Pratibha Patil on Sunday rejected the controversial recommendation by chief election commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami for the removal of election commissioner Navin Chawla, who is now expected to head the commission.
A Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said the President arrived at a “considered opinion” and accepted the government’s recommendation for rejection of the CEC’s report on 31 January against Chawla, who is known to be close to leaders of the Congress party.
The decision came as no surprise since the government had said CEC was not empowered to seek removal of a fellow commissioner except when a presidential reference was made.
Clean chit: Navin Chawla. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Gopalaswami’s action had also attracted sharp criticism from legal luminaries, although main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, had strongly supported the move.
Chawla, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, is now expected to succeed Gopalaswami on 1 April when the latter’s tenure as CEC ends.
The government is expected to name a new election commissioner to succeed Chawla in the three-member Election Commission; the other member is S.Y. Quraishi.
The President, “after careful consideration of the report of the CEC, the government’s recommendation, constitutional provisions and the Supreme Court judgement, arrived at a considered opinion and has accepted the recommendation of the government”, Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson Archana Dutta said.
The battle in the Election Commission, the seat of the three-member poll panel, took a new turn on 31 January when Gopalaswami recommended the removal of Chawla on a petition by the BJP, which had accused him of “partisan” functioning, sparking a furore.
Terming the government’s move as “unfortunate”, the BJP on Sunday said the government had taken “a political decision on a strictly constitutional matter”.
Within days of Gopalaswami’s recommendation, law minister H.R. Bhardwaj had said the controversy should not affect Chawla’s career. Hinting that Chawla will be the next CEC, Bhardwaj had said the government had a policy to have the senior-most election commissioner as CEC and “our policy continues to be the same”.
In 2006, L.K. Advani, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and 204 members of Parliament had submitted a petition to then president A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, seeking the removal of Chawla as election commissioner.