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Lavasa may leave poll watchdog for ADB job

July 16, 2020 06:51 AM

Lavasa may leave poll watchdog for ADB job
Deeksha Bhardwaj

New Delhi : Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, who was expected to take over as chief election commissioner in 2021, may leave the commission prematurely to join the Asian Development Bank as vice president.

The 1980-batch Haryana cadre officer of the Indian Administrative Service has almost two years remaining in his tenure as Election Commissioner and was in line to take as chief election commissioner from Sunil Arora. His early exit will give the other election commissioner Sushil Chandra a shot at the top post.

Lavasa, 62, served in several posts with the government, including as secretary in the finance ministry. As CEC, he would have overseen the conduct of elections in West Bengal, Manipur, Goa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank announced that 62-year-old Lavasa had been appointed as vice-president of private sector operations and public-private partnerships. The central government recommends nominees to postings at the multilateral lender, officials familiar with the matter said, although these are usually at the level of the executive director.

Former CEC N Gopalaswamy said Lavasa would have accepted the position before the announcement was made. “The bank would have written to him to get his consent,” Gopalaswamy said. “The bank would have only made the announcement after that.”

According to a former joint secretary with the Union government familiar with the workings of the ADB, Lavasa is likely to have applied for the post. “Two kinds of appointments are made to the ADB,” the former joint secretary (JS) said on condition of anonymity. “The country recommends a JS-level officer or higher to the board of directors or one can apply to DoPT (department of personnel and training) to do a stint as a subject specialist.”

The former officer added that Lavasa’s appointment would have been made “entirely on merit” and keeping in mind “regional balance’”. “It is a three-year tenure, which is close to what Lavasa had left with the Commission,” this person added.

“The appointment could not have been made without in-principle approval from the government,” a senior EC official said on the condition of anonymity.

Lavasa was appointed as the Election Commissioner in 2018. ECs generally serve in the commission for six years or till they reach the age of 65 years.

People close to Lavasa said that he was approached by a search agency and he agreed to be considered for the post.

“Mr Lavasa has a long and distinguished career in the Indian civil service. He is currently one of the Election Commissioners of India and previously served in a range of senior posts including as Union Finance Secretary of India; Union Secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change; and Union Secretary for the Ministry of Civil Aviation,” ADB said in a statement. “He has extensive experience in public-private partnerships and infrastructure development at the state and federal levels, with deep knowledge on public policy and the role of private sector.”

The people close to Lavasa said he is likely to accept the job. “It is a prestigious assignment and he was happy to be considered,’’one of them added on condition of anonymity. CEC Arora said he was not aware of the matter.

The last time an election commissioner quit the poll body was in 1973, when Nagendra Singh, the then chief election commissioner, resigned to join the International Court of Justice.

Lavasa was one of the key dissenters when the poll body cleared prime minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah for speeches that allegedly violated the model code conduct ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in April and May 2019. The model code regulates the behaviour of candidates, parties and governments during elections.

In November last year , media reports said the goverment, in August, wrote to state-owned companies in the power sector asking them whether Lavasa “exercised undue influence” during his stint in the ministry. The letter pertained to 14 companies in which Lavasa’s wife Noel Lavasa, was a director. In September, media reports said Noel Lavasa and a few more of Lavasa’s relatives were being investigated by the income tax department

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