Nearly a third of Aam Aadmi Party legislators might face disqualification after President Pranab Mukherjee refused to sign a bill that allowed the 21 MLAs to hold a second paying position as parliamentary secretary, officials said on Monday.
The Constitution prohibits legislators or parliamentarians from holding any positions with monetary or other benefits. This clause – known as office of profit – is aimed at reducing conflict-of-interest situations for public representatives.
Rashtrapati Bhavan sources said the Union home and law ministries told the President the Delhi government bill –allowing the MLAs’ appointment as parliamentary secretaries and exempting them from office-of-profit regulations retrospectively – violated existing laws.
“The President has withheld his assent to the bill and it has been conveyed to the lieutenant governor,” said a home ministry spokesperson.
Sources from L-G Najeeb Jung’s office said the President’s decision had been communicated to the Delhi government’s law secretary.
The AAP government fumed at the development, saying that no MLA received any benefits – vehicles, bungalow or extra money – from the parliamentary secretary position.
“Modi ji doesn’t respect democracy. He is only afraid of AAP. Modi ji says neither I will work, nor will allow others to work,” Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted as the party called an emergency meeting.
If the MLAs are disqualified, it will be setback for Kejriwal, who stormed to power two years ago on an anti-corruption plank but has repeatedly clashed with the Centre over officers’ appointment, files and governmental jurisdiction.
“It is a moral defeat for Kejriwal and the AAP. It is a fall out of the party’s dishonesty, anarchist mindset and undemocratic endeavour to keep its flock together by rewarding MLAs,” said Vijender Gupta, BJP leader and leader of Opposition in the assembly.
The election commission is expected to take a final call on the disqualification issue. The MLAs have already responded to notices sent by the poll panel after lawyer Prashant Patel complained to the President and EC, sources said.
Moreover, the appointment of the legislators as parliamentary secretaries has been challenged in the Delhi high court.
But Delhi government sources said the AAP administration will first review the reasons behind the withholding of assent and indicated all option, including sending the bill back to the President, were open.
On March 13, 2015, the Kejriwal government passed an order appointing the 21 party MLAs as parliamentary secretaries, saying they won’t take remuneration and hence didn’t fall under the office of profit regulations.
Subsequently, the AAP government sought an amendment in the form of a bill -- the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 2015 -- passed it in the assembly last June on the back of its brute majority of 67 MLAs in the 70-member House.
“Bill to provide car, office and amenities to 21 AAP MLAs was not only ethically but also procedurally wrong. Thus bill rejected. We welcome it!” Congress leader Ajay Maken tweeted.
This is the second controversy to hit AAP legislators after the assembly agreed last December to a four-fold salary hike for MLAs along with a substantial increase in allowances that made them among the highest-paid lawmakers in India.
The practice of appointing multiple parliamentary secretaries gained popularity after a 2003 constitutional amendment capped the number of ministerial berths to 15% of the House strength, forcing parties to think of alternatives to keep large numbers of legislators happy.
In Delhi an earlier provision only allowed one parliamentary secretary position to the chief minister. The position was kept out of the purview of the office of profit rules after a 2006 amendment bill, when the Congress was in power.
The amendment passed by the AAP government clarified that parliamentary secretaries to ministers shall also not be disqualified.