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Politics

Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, Known for Dissent in EC, May Leave Early for ADB Job

As per long-prevailing norms governing the appointment of chief election commissioners, Lavasa would ordinarily have taken charge of the EC in April 2021. But the government evidently has other plans.

New Delhi: Election commissioner Ashok Lavasa has been appointed as a vice-president with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), according to a statement put out by the financial institution on Wednesday afternoon.

Lavasa – who is well-known for having opposed five clean chits given by the Election Commission to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah over alleged violations of the Model Code of Conduct – will take over from Diwakar Gupta as ADB’s Vice-President for Private Sector Operations and Public–Private Partnerships.

As a multilateral institution, ADB senior appointments of nationals from member countries are normally made with not just the concurrence of the government concerned but also at its request.

Since election commissioners serve for a term of six years or till they reach the age of 65, Lavasa, who was appointed to the post in January 2018 and was born in October 1957  still has over two years of his term left at the Election Commission and was on track to become the chief election commissioner next April, when the current CEC, Sunil Arora retires.

The Wire has not been able to confirm when Lavasa will take up his new appointment at the ADB headquarters in Manila, though it would be unusual for the bank – and the nominating government – to hold the position till after his prospective term as CEC would end in 2022.

Lavasa’s imminent departure means the government will not only get to select someone of its choice as his replacement, but also promote to CEC the current no. 3, Sushil Chandra. A former head of the Central Board of Direct Taxes till his appointment to the Election Commission last year, Chandra had received two extensions at the crucial tax job and is seen by the opposition as being close to the ruling political establishment.

Lavasa’s exit comes at a time when the opposition has questioned the EC’s decision to go along with unilateral revisions in voting rules by which the use of postal ballots has been expanded dramatically.

Lavasa and family subjected to probes

Over the past year, Lavasa and his family have been under the scanner of various investigative agencies. In September 2019, a notice was sent to Lavasa’s wife Novel S Lavasa for alleged discrepancies in income tax filings. In a statement, Mrs Lavasa said she has “paid all taxes due” and “disclosed all income” and that she was cooperating with the department.

In November, the Enforcement Directorate started an investigation against a company in which Lavasa’s son Abir was a director, for alleged violation of foreign exchange laws.

Lavasa’s sister Shakuntala, a paediatrician, too received a notice from the tax department in December 2019 over alleged stamp duty evasion.

In that same month, Lavasa wrote an article in The Indian Express where he did not address these allegations but spoke of the “loneliness” and “isolation” suffered by the honest.

 “It is naïve to expect those that have been opposed by the honest to meekly accept the ascendance of the meek. They strike back and the price for the honest could be in the form of lonely suffering, even noticeable isolation. The honest could be shunned by friends and foe alike.”.

It is unclear at the moment whether his appointment was put forth, nominated or approved in any manner by the Indian government. The Wire has reached out to the ADB in this regard and this story will be updated if and when a response is received.

ADB praise

The press release put out by the ADB states that Lavasa has had a “long and distinguished” career in the Indian civil service.

“Mr. Lavasa led the Indian delegation in the climate change negotiations for the Paris Agreement and was instrumental in finalizing India’s nationally determined contributions, which included a major role of the private sector,” the statement notes.

“At both policy and project levels, he made significant contributions to the inclusion of the private sector in many development programs in India for different sectors such as energy, agriculture, finance, and infrastructure. As Joint Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs, he worked closely with many ADB projects that had private sector components.”