Government defends Padma Bhushan to Chatwal

New Delhi/New York, Jan 27 (Calcutta Tube) Defending the decision to honour Sant Singh Chatwal with the Padma Bhushan, the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the government Wednesday said there was ‘nothing adverse on record’ against the US-based hotelier and ‘due diligence’ exercise was undertaken before announcing his name for the award.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had criticised the decision to honour Chatwal as he was chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a fraud case.

Even the Congress on Tuesday said the Padma awards should be given to people who enhance the country’s prestige and not to those with a taint.

‘As per available reports, there is nothing adverse on record against Chatwal,’ the home ministry said in a statement.

BJP leader Gopinath Munde also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, demanding that the award to Chatwal be taken back because of his alleged controversial financial dealings.

‘As regards the allegations against Chatwal, it is clarified that between 1992 and 1994, the CBI had registered five cases against Chatwal and some bank officials for conniving with the intention to defraud the Bank of Baroda and Bank of India,’ the ministry said.

‘Three of these cases were closed by the CBI itself while chargesheets were filed by the CBI in two cases before the court of Special Judge, CBI, Mumbai. In these two cases also, the court discharged Chatwal.’

The ministry pointed out Chatwal was a tireless advocate of India’s interests in the US and had been working relentlessly for strengthening bilateral relationships between the two countries.

‘He is the trustee of William J. Clinton Foundation, which focuses on critical global issues such as health care, climate change and economic empowerment of the underprivileged in the world community,’ the home ministry statement said.

Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed, when contacted in the face of the Chatwal controversy, said the Padma awards should be given to those who enhance the country’s prestige, and not to thjose with a taint.

‘We are not talking of any specific case. But these awards should be given to people who enhance its prestige and not to those who have a taint,’ he said.

The home ministry said Padma awards were conferred only after consideration in terms of the guidelines regulating the award and after observance of established and elaborate procedures.

‘A ‘due diligence’ exercise is undertaken in respect of each awardee in consultation with appropriate agencies before announcement of the award. No Padma award is conferred except on the recommendation of the awards committee constituted for the purpose and after the due diligence has been done,’ the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Chatwal has accused the BJP of playing politics in questioning the award to him.

‘I have really no idea about BJP’s objection. I love my country and have been working for it for the past 30 years. I don’t care for the parties. They will come and go,’ said Chatwal, considered close to former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Chatwal is one of the 13 Non-resident Indians to be given Padma awards this year. He had recently announced that his Hampshire Hotels chain would set up 25 hotels in India by 2011.

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