Defending the decision to honour Sant Singh Chatwal with the Padma Bhushan, the nation's third highest civilian honour, the Indian Government has said that 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 Award, however, has stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest, and several citizens are questioning the lack of transparency in the methods applied to select the awardees. Certainly this is one award that has fuelled a raging controversy, and questions have asked under provisions of the Right to Information Act.
“As per available reports, there is nothing adverse on record against Chatwal,” the Union Home Ministry said in a statement. The Congress-led Government reiterated that the Padma Awards ought to be given to those who enhance the country’s prestige and not to those tainted.
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. BJP leader Gopinath Munde had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding that the award to Chatwal be taken back because of his alleged controversial financial dealings.
The Ministry clarified that the allegations against Chatwal pertained to the period between 1992 and 1994. It was during that time that the CBI registered five cases against Chatwal and some bank officials for conniving with the intention of defrauding the Bank of Baroda and the Bank of India. Three of those cases, however, were closed by the CBI itself while chargesheets were filed by the CBI in two cases before a Special Judge in Mumbai. In both cases the court discharged Chatwal.
The Government went out of its way to defend its decision of bestowing the high civilian honour on Chatwal. The Home Ministry said that Chatwal had been a tireless advocate of India's interests in the US and had been working relentlessly for strengthening bilateral relationships between the two countries. It has been pointed out Chatwal also is a trustee at the William J. Clinton Foundation, an institution that focuses on critical global issues such as health care, climate change and economic empowerment of the underprivileged in the world community. Chatwal is considered close to both former US President Bill Clinton and his wife, the present US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Ministry further clarified that 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.
Chatwal, meanwhile, accused the BJP of playing politics in questioning the award to him. “I have really no idea on why the BJP has raised an 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,” he said. 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.