Monday, February 02, 2009

Is EC Election Commissioner or Element of Congress?

Finally Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami has belled the cat by recommending removal of EC Naveen Chawla to the President for "partisanship". Surprisingly, the ruling and self styled seculars decided to fault the Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami’s recommendation for removing Navin Chawla than focusing on the disturbing facts about Navin Chawla.

The main criticism against N Gopalaswami is on the timing of his recommendation. The delay was mainly because it took several reminders for Chawla to give reply to N Gopalaswami's inquiry which was finally done on December 10.

Navin Chawla, a 1969 batch IAS officer, belonging to the Delhi & Andaman Nicobar cadre held several important assignments before being appointed Election Commissioner on May 16, 2005. Shocked at the appointment of Navin Chawla as an Election Commissioner  205 MPs sent a representation against his appointment.

Naveen Chawla caught the public eye when he was posted as Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Delhi Kishan Chand during the Emergency. During this period, he was very close to Sanjay Gandhi and wielded unprecedented power. After emergency, he was examined by the Shah Commission on charges involving illegal detention orders under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act during the Emergency; treatment of detainees in jails; confirmation of detention orders by the Lt governor in four-monthly review and working of the Administrative Review Committee; and the contemptuous attitude of the Delhi administration towards the ministry of home affairs. He was strongly indicted by the Shah Commission. The report said:

“S/Shri P SBhinder, K SBajwa and Navin Chawla exercised enormous powers during the emergency because they had easy access to the then Prime Minister’s house. Their approach to the problems of the period relating to the citizens was authoritarian and callous. They grossly misused their position and abused their powers in cynical disregard of the welfare of the citizens, and in the process rendered themselves unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fairplay and consideration for others. In their relish for power, they completely subverted the normal channels of command and administrative procedures.’’ 

J C Shah was not a partisan political activist. He was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1970-71) and headed the commission of enquiry that went into the Emergency excesses only in that capacity. 

Naveen Chawla escaped penal action on the basis of the Shah Commission’s report only because the Janata Party collapsed under its own weight and the government fell in July 1979. The Shah Commission, appointed under Section 3 of the Commission for Enquiry Act, 1952, had completed its work and submitted its report even before the collapse.

Indira Gandhi, on her return as Prime Minister in January 1980 lost no time in dumping the report and Navin Chawla was soon rehabilitated as deputy secretary, in the ministry of labour. He then climbed the ladder to become information and broadcasting secretary in May 2004 and picked to become Election Commissioner in May 2005 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet.  

One more striking instance of gross misconduct of Naveen Chawla that came to light was the fact that he got donations and largesse for his family-run trust of which he and his wife Rupika are trustees. From who? The very politicians he is bound to oversee and discipline. Not surprisingly, all of them belong to a single party, the Congress. Chawla got funds allocated by Congress MPs from their MPLAD Scheme. The large hearted MPs were: A A Khan, R P Goenka, Ambika Soni, Karan Singh and A R Kidwai. Chawla’s trust was also allotted six acres of land from the Congress government in Rajasthan previously headed by Ashok Gehlot. It has been reported that Ambika Soni contributed Rs 15 lakh, Karan Singh Rs 10 lakh, A R Kidwai Rs 45 lakh.

In retrospect, it is Chawla’s appointment to the EC, and his continuance in EC, that is wrong. Not his removal recommended by Gopalaswami. The CEC must be commended for his courage, not faulted on wrong reasoning.

Finally on the question on CEC's right to recommend removal of EC. The Supreme Court had expressly vested this right in the CEC by its judgement in the case of T N Seshan vs Union of India [reported in (1995) 4 SCC 611]. The court ruled that “the CEC is a permanent incumbent” and “to preserve and safeguard his independence, has to be treated differently” from other members of the EC. The CEC cannot be removed except by impeachment; the other members are removable without this process. The power to remove other members needs to be retained, added the court. The court also ruled: “having safeguarded the CEC from external and executive pressure” confidence was reposed in CEC “to safeguard the independence” of his Election Commissioners by enjoining that they cannot be removed except on his recommendation.

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