Om Prakash Rawat appointed new chief election commissioner
Election commissioner OP Rawat will be the new chief of the poll panel that also got a new member in Ashok Lavasa, a former finance secretary, the government announced Sunday.
A 1977-batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, Rawat, who joined the Election Commission in August 2015, takes over as the chief election commissioner from Achal Kumar Joti whose term ends on Monday.
Rawat’s elevation came on the day President Ram Nath Kovind accepted the Election Commission’s recommendation to disqualify 20 legislators of Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for holding office of profit.
Rawat had in April 2016 recused himself from a poll panel hearing to assess if the MLAs were holding office of profit after Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal accused him of bias.
Kejriwal, who is also the AAP chief, had alleged that Rawat was close to Madhya Pradesh chief minister and senior BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chauhan.
A miffed Rawat decided to stay away from the hearing to “uphold the public perception of the impartiality and objectivity of the Election Commission of India”. He re-joined the hearing after CEC Nasim Zaidi demitted office.
Rawat takes over at a time when opposition has been accusing the poll panel of doing government’s bidding.
It faced criticism for deferring the Gujarat election. Several political parties, including the AAP, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Trinamool Congress, have repeatedly questioned the efficacy of the electronic voting machines after the BJP’s stunning win in the last year’s Uttar Pradesh assembly poll.
Rawat has in the past expressed concern over what he said was the new norm of winning at all costs.
Addressing a seminar on poll reforms, the Banaras Hindu University alumnus frowned upon the practice of “poaching of legislators, extolled as smart political management; strategic introduction of money for allurement, tough-minded use of state machinery for intimidation etc. are all commended as resourcefulness”.
He recently surprised many with his statement that the poll panel would be ready to hold assembly and Lok Sabha elections simultaneously after September 2018.
While parliamentary polls are due only in 2019, eight states vote for new assemblies this year.
The BJP has been pushing for simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha polls but the suggestion has found little support among the political class.
A 1980-batch IAS officer of the Haryana cadre, Lavasa was the finance secretary from June 2016 till October 2017. He was also a secretary in the finance ministry’s expenditure department.
His biggest achievement perhaps is that as the environment secretary, he played a vital role in India joining the Paris accord that aims to control emissions by 2022.
Lavasa also introduced online application for environment clearances, significantly reducing the time required for them.