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AAP office-of-profit row: What next for Delhi as decision on 20 MLAs hangs with President

The EC’s recommendation is with regard to the “office of profit” case where weeks after the AAP won a majority in the Delhi assembly elections, the government appointed the legislators as parliament secretaries in March, 2015.

delhi Updated: Jan 19, 2018 23:26 IST
Sweta Goswami
Sweta Goswami
Hindustan Times
Office of Profit,AAP MLAs disqualified,Delhi MLAs
Since Delhi Assembly has 70 seats, the Aam Aadmi Party government will remain intact even as after the disqualification the number of its MLAs will remain 46, which would still be a majority in the House(HT File Photo)

Delhi may be headed for bypolls if the President gives his nod to the Election Commission’s recommendation to disqualify 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs for holding an office of profit.

If the lawmakers fail to get a stay from the court on Election Commission’s recommendation, bypolls will be held to 20 Assembly constituencies which include Dwarka, Chandni Chowk, Najafgarh, Jangpura, Rajender Nagar, Janakpuri, Wazirpur, Gandhi Nagar, Kalkaji, Kondli, Laxmi Nagar and Mehrauli.

Triggering a political storm, the Election Commission on Friday recommended disqualification of the 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs who were holding posts of parliamentary secretaries in various Delhi government departments. However, there is no immediate threat to the AAP government because even if it loses 20 MLAs, the party would still have 46 MLAs in the 70-member Delhi assembly, maintaining an easy majority.

“The President can reject any recommendation sent to him, but it is unlikely in this case. In cases of disqualification of lawmakers, the President seeks the opinion of the poll panel. So, it’s binding on him to approve the EC’s recommendation,” said Subhash Kashyap, former Lok Sabha secretary general.

As soon as the President signs the recommendation letter, the 20 assembly constituencies will automatically fall vacant, paving the way for bypolls. The elections will have to be held within six months.

In the current scenario, only a court stay can delay or prevent the polls. Six AAP MLAs, of the 20 who face disqualification, approached the Delhi High Court on Friday. The court refused to pass an interim order.

Justice Rekha Palli, however, asked the ECI to inform it on Monday, when the matter will be heard next, whether the recommendation has been communicated to President Ram Nath Kovind, as the MLAs have sought that they be heard by the poll panel if no such communication has been made.

The AAP said it was ready for polls. “We have moved the court, but we are all ready for by-elections. We are certain that we will win all the seats,” said Chandni Chowk MLA Alka Lamba, who is among the 20 MLAs.

Party sources said the AAP will have to remain wary of the rebels. At least seven MLAs have rebelled against the party chief, Arvind Kejriwal, including Kapil Mishra, Sandeep Kumar, Jitender Singh Tomar, Asif Ahmad Khan and Devender Sehrawat.

The Aam Aadmi Party had appointed 21 parliamentary secretaries in March 2015. It’s Rajouri Garden MLA Jarnail Singh had vacated the seat to contest elections in Punjab. Later, the AAP lost the bypoll to the seat.

Governments both in Delhi and other states have appointed parliamentary secretaries in the past too.

The AAP claimed that the appointments violate no rules as none of its legislators draw salaries as parliament secretaries. “Office of Profit is when someone benefits. I want to ask do they use official bunglow or car?,” AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said on Friday.

But the Congress and the BJP have argued that the posts allowed them perks and so were offices of profit.

“The word parliamentary secretary is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution or the NCT of Delhi Act or the Transaction of Business Rules,” said constitution expert SK Sharma.

“Both Sahib Singh Verma and Sheila Dikshit had appointed Nand Kishore Garg (BJP MLA from Tri Nagar) and Ajay Maken (Congress MLA from Rajouri Garden), respectively as parliamentary secretaries. Had someone challenged their appointment then, they would have also had to give up their posts or face disqualification. Nand Kishore Garg had resigned from the post after just four days of his appointment,” Sharma said.

First Published: Jan 19, 2018 16:05 IST