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Govt hints Chawla will be next CEC
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 2
Finding fault with Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami for recommending the removal of EC Navin Chawla, Law Minister HR Bhardwaj today said the “CEC could not get rid of his colleagues by this method”.

Bhardwaj also made it abundantly clear that Chawla, the senior-most EC, would be made the CEC after Gopalaswami completed his tenure on April 20, the appointment subject to cabinet approval and the Presidential order (of appointment).

Describing the present controversy as “unfortunate”, Bhardwaj said it should not effect Chawla’s career as appointments in the Election Commission are based on merit.

Talking to reporters at a day-long conference organised by his ministry, he said he had received the CEC's complaint against Chawla. He would have a look at it in the next few days and forward his views to the Prime Minister.

The Minister said the CEC did not have the powers to make a recommendation for the removal of an EC to the President, unless the government sought his views on any specific complaint.

Bhardwaj said the procedure for the appointment and removal of Election Commissioners was one and the same. Law Ministry was vested with the power to initiate the procedure for the appointment of an EC, so the removal procedure should also originate from his ministry, he contended.

To a suggestion that the CEC was possibly acting as a whistleblower in this instance, he said Gopalaswami could assume this role only after demitting office.

Bhardwaj also regretted that the CEC had allowed himself to be used by the BJP after its failure to fight out the Chawla issue in the Supreme Court. Before finding fault with a fellow EC, he should have looked within first, the Minister said.

Chawla, he said, had acquitted himself well as a civil servant in various governments, including that of the BJP-led NDA. He said people were appreciative of the CEC and the two ECs for the conduct of free and fair polls, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka recently, and now the CEC’s move was sullying its image. His ministry would complete the procedure for the appointment of the new CEC and an EC well in time before April 20, he said.

On being reminded that the government had taken a stand before the Supreme Court that the complaints against Chawla were baseless, Bhardwaj pointed out that any affidavit filed before the judiciary could not be withdrawn. So, the government's stand basically remained the same, he said.

Asked whether he would like to change the procedure for the appointment of judges and ECs, he said this could be thought of only if the ruling coalition had two-third majority in both Houses of the Parliament.

The CEC has caused “embarrassment” with his comment on his colleague because they (all election commissioners) are equals, he said.

The Election Commission should be preparing the election rolls but it's unfortunate that he (CEC) has sparked off the controversy, he said.

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