Office of profit: Delhi HC restores membership of 20 disqualified AAP MLAs
The high court said the Centre’s notification disqualifying the AAP MLAs in the office of profit issue was bad in law and remanded their plea back to the Election Commission, which will hear it afresh.delhi Updated: Mar 23, 2018 23:00 IST
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) received a morale-boosting reprieve on Friday from the Delhi high court, which reinstated 20 MLAs of the party who had been disqualified through a presidential order on the recommendation of the Election Commission of India (ECI).
Disqualification of the members of the legislative assembly (MLAs), on grounds that they held an office of profit as parliamentary secretaries, was in violation of the “principle of natural justice,” a bench comprising justice Sanjiv Khanna and justice Chander Shekhar ruled.
The judges sent back the case to the ECI for a fresh hearing on all the “important” and “seminal issues” and to determine the meaning of the expression “office of profit held under the government”.
सत्य की जीत हुई। दिल्ली के लोगों द्वारा चुने हुए प्रतिनिधियों को ग़लत तरीक़े से बर्खास्त किया गया था। दिल्ली हाई कोर्ट ने दिल्ली के लोगों को न्याय दिया। दिल्ली के लोगों की बड़ी जीत। दिल्ली के लोगों को बधाई। https://t.co/eDayHziHSn— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 23, 2018
“Order of remand is passed to the ECI to hear arguments and thereafter decide the all important and seminal issue; what is meant by the expression ‘office of profit held under the Government’ and re-examine the factual matrix to decide whether the petitioners had incurred disqualification on appointment as Parliamentary Secretaries, without being influenced by the earlier order or observations on the said aspect in this order,” the court said in a 79-page order.
The ruling was delivered on a bunch of appeals by the MLAs, who had challenged the ECI recommendation and the President’s approval of their disqualification from the Delhi Assembly.
Delhi chief minister and AAP’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal, who met the 20 MLAs at his residence late in the evening to congratulate them on their reinstatement, called the verdict a “victory of truth”.
The ECI will decide on its course of action after reviewing the court order, an official at the poll panel said on condition of anonymity.
The petitioners contended that they were not given a proper oral hearing by the poll watchdog before it recommend their disqualification. They also said one of the election commissioners, OP Rawat, had earlier recused himself from hearing the case and rejoined the proceedings without the knowledge of the AAP lawmakers.
The bench held that the order passed by the ECI on January 19 this year is “vitiated and bad in law for failure to comply with the principles of natural justice,” noting that the ECI had failed to offer an oral hearing to the MLAs.
Accordingly, an order “is issued quashing the said opinion dated 19th January, 2018 and the consequent order/notification..,” it said.
It also held that the ECI had failed to inform the MLAs that election commissioner Rawat had expressed his intention of rejoining proceedings after his initial recusal and also that Sunil Arora, another election commissioner, had not participated in the proceedings and no hearings were held before him.
The high court has been hearing the matter on a day-to-day basis since February 7.
● Chandni Chow
● Gandhi Nagar
● Gurdwara elections
● Kasurba Nagar
● Food and Civil Supplies
● Laxmi Nagar
● Women and Child and Social Welfare
● Rohtas Nagar
● Sadar Bazar
● Revenue ministry
● Moti Nagar
● Languages & Welfare of SC/ST
● Rajinder Nagar
● Tilak Nagar
The MLAs claimed that they had not received any profit during their term as parliamentary secretaries; the Election Commission argued that the plea was not maintainable and should be dismissed.
On January 24, the court had refused to stay the Centre’s notification disqualifying them, but had restrained the poll panel from taking any “precipitate measures” such as announcing dates for byelections to fill the vacancies caused by the disqualification.
“The representatives elected by the people were disqualified in a wrong manner. The Delhi high court’s verdict is a big victory for Delhi people. I congratulate all Delhiites,” Kejriwal said.
AAP welcomed the court’s decision and said it had given hope to smaller parties like their’s. “The ECI had violated the principles of natural justice by not giving a single hearing to any of the 20 AAP MLAs. The HC’s verdict is a big victory, but the situation also shows how in a federal structure the Central government is doing ‘dadagiri’” (bullying) said AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj.
Some of the MLAs who had been disqualified joined proceedings during the budget session of the Delhi Assembly.
The high court ruling has come as a boon to the AAP as it has in some way established their claims of receiving “step-motherly” treatment from the ECI, said Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)
“There is a certain respect in the minds of the people for the judiciary and this verdict has in a way pointed out the discrimination against them. This will also boost the morale of the party workers,” he said.
The leader of opposition in Delhi assembly, Vijender Gupta, said the court had only offered temporary relief to the 20 MLAs by directing the ECI to hear them again.
“The court has not absolved them. The basic issues of the office of profit and recommendation of the President have not been questioned,” Gupta, who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party, said.
Gupta said that it was unfortunate that the issue was being politicised. “The decision is part of the judicial process and must not be taken as a victory or defeat,” he added.