President rejects CEC advice, Navin Chawla stays

The UPA government on Sunday rejected Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N Gopalaswami's recommendation for the removal of Navin Chawla as Election Commissioner. A statement issued by Rashtrapati Bhavan said President Pratibha Patil has accepted the government's advice to reject the CEC's report. Chawla is tipped to take over as CEC when current incumbent Gopalaswami demits office on April 20.

With Chawla back in Delhi on Sunday evening after a two-day break, the three-member poll panel will meet on Monday to decide the dates of the Lok Sabha elections. The EC completed the all-round consultation process on Thursday. Three deputy election commissioners, doing the bulk of planning and groundwork, were busy brainstorming at Nirvachan Sadan till late on Sunday. The final proposal will be evaluated by the three Commissioners on Monday.

EC sources said the announcement on poll dates could come on Monday itself. A top source said: "We will announce the election dates within a couple of hours of approving the final schedule. The band for announcing the schedule will not, however, stretch beyond Wednesday."

Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson Archana Dutta said, "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."

The government had recommended that the "CEC's report and the recommendation to remove Navin Chawla from the post of Election Commissioner may be rejected".

Gopalaswami wrote to the President in January recommending Chawla's removal for his alleged biased conduct. The President forwarded the letter to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), which, after obtaining the law ministry's view on the issue last week, informed the President that Chawla would not be removed.

The BJP, which has long maintained that "Chawla is close to the Congress," expressed its displeasure. "A political decision has been taken on a Constitutional matter. The citizens also have right to know the details of the CEC letter which is supposed to be a remark on the conduct of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said. EC authorities refused to react to the development.

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