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Padma Award To Chatwal After Due Diligence: Govt

With controversy erupting over Padma Bhushan for NRI hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, Government stepped in to clear the air saying "due diligence" was done before selection and that the CBI had closed three cases of
PTI January 27, 2010 20:27 IST

With controversy erupting over Padma Bhushan for NRI hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, Government stepped in to clear the air saying "due diligence" was done before selection and that the CBI had closed three cases of financial irregularities against him.

The Government came out with an unusual clarification saying its attention has been drawn to some media reports about the conferment of the Padma Bhushan award on Chatwal.

The release also hailed Chatwal as a "tireless advocate" of India s interests in the US and has been working relentlessly for strengthening bilateral relationships between the two countries.

He was ac active member of NRI committee in the US in securing support for the nuclear deal among the members of US Congress.

Referring to the allegations of financial irregularities against him, the Government clarified that between 1992 and 1994, the CBI had registered five cases against him and some bank officials for conniving with the intention of defrauding the Bank of Baroda and Bank of India.

"Three of these cases were closed by CBI itself while charge sheets were filed by the CBI in two cases before the Court of Special Judge, CBI, Mumbai. In these two cases, the Court discharged Chatwal," it said, adding as per available reports, there is nothing adverse on record against him.

A "due diligence" exercise is undertaken in respect of each awardee in consultation with appropriate agencies before announcement of the award.

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

"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 statement said.

It said Chatwal was a 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.

Chatwal, who was distinguished himself in hospitality sector, is also founder trustee of the American India foundation and has made frequent trips to India to provide relief to victims of Tsunami and AIDS.

He was a recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Award 2005 and has been honoured by the National Jewish Outreach Programme in New York in 2001 and with the "Order of the Khalsa" by the Government of Punjab in 1999.

US-based NRI hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal on Tuesday remained unfazed over BJP's demand to the government that the Padma Bhushan awarded to him be taken back in the wake of his controversial financial dealings. 

Chatwal, who was earlier chargesheeted by the CBI for an alleged USD 9 million fraud case connected with the State Bank of India, said he was thrilled and "grateful" to the Indian Government that after such a long time they have really recognised his services towards strengthening Indo-US ties. 

"I have really no idea about BJP's objection. I love my country and have been working 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 and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

BJP's Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde yesterday had written a letter to the President and Prime Minister expressing disapproval over the government's decision to bestow the third highest civilian honour on Chatwal. 

Munde alleged that due to Chatwal's controversial financial dealings he did not deserve the honour and it should be taken back. 

In the wake of the BJP demand, Congress said the Home Ministry decides the awards and they might have their reasons for it. Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed however said that in general the party  wants these awards to be given to people who enhance its  prestige and not to those with a taint. 

Chatwal said he was grateful to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has recognised "my efforts and services for this award." 

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