Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, known for his dissenting orders, has been appointed the vice president of the Philippines-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) and will oversee private sector operations and public-private partnerships. He is expected to resign from the Election Commission soon.
In the run up to the 2019 general elections, Lavasa dissented on five occasions in cases that looked into violation of model code of conduct by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the then BJP president Amit Shah.
Significantly, Lavasa’s exit will give a free hand to the government in selecting an Election Commissioner who would become the Chief Election Commissioner by 2024 and oversee the next general elections. While Lavasa was anyway scheduled to retire in October 2022, his premature exit from the Election Commission will give that much more time for the Modi government to have a “friendly” official in his place.
Lavasa was second in line for the post of the Chief Election Commissioner. His colleague Sushil Chandra is next in line for the post. But anyone who would be inducted for a clear five-year term now has the best possibility of becoming the Chief Election Commissioner with responsibility of conducting the 2024 polls.
It is not immediately known under what circumstances Lavasa decided to take the ADB job instead of completing his term in the EC. But what is clear is it is to the advantage of the Modi government as a “troublesome” officer is moving out of its way.
The powers of the two Election Commissioners and the Chief Election Commissioner are almost the same. But on contentious issues, a final call is taken based on a majority decision.
Previously, the Election Commission had only one chief. This was converted into a three-member panel by the erstwhile Congress government that faced a tough challenge from TN Seshan, who was credited with bringing in major electoral reforms. Seshan was uncompromising and managed to put the political class on the defensive.
Lavasa will be the second Election Commissioner after Nagendra Singh (1973) to leave the panel before the completion of his term. Singh was appointed a judge in the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
At ADB, Lavasa succeeds Diwakar Gupta whose term ends on August 31.
A 1980 batch IAS officer of the Haryana cadre, Lavasa was appointed as the Election Commissioner in January 2018.
If he had succeeded incumbent Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, Lavasa would have overseen Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur. His appointment to the ADB took effect after clearance from the central government.
In November 2019, the government had written letters to at least 11 public sector undertakings in the power sector to check whether there was any “undue influence” by Ashok Lavasa during his tenure as power secretary between 2009 and 2013.
The government also annexed names of 14 private sector companies engaged in power and renewable sectors. In these companies, his wife Novel Lavasa had served as director. The investigating agencies were asked to examine whether there was any quid pro quo.
The Income Tax department has also issued notices to EC’s wife Novel Singhal Lavasa, their son and daughter. Investigations are in progress.