Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with the then disqualified MLAs. (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav)
The Election Commission Thursday will resume hearing the alleged office of profit case against 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs. This, after the Delhi High Court had in April this year, set aside their disqualification on grounds that the poll panel’s recommendation in the case were “bad in law”.
The panel had in April dispatched notices to all legislators, informing that Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat and Election Commissioners Sunil Arora and Ashok Lavasa would conduct an oral hearing on the matter at 3 pm on May 17.
The complaint demands disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs -Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri, Sanjeev Jha, Rajesh Gupta, Kailash Gahlot, Vijendra Garg, Praveen Kumar, Sharad Kumar, Madan Lal and Shiv Charan Goyal, among others – on the ground that they were unconstitutionally appointed as parliamentary secretaries to assist various ministers of the Delhi government. The others were Sarita Singh, Naresh Yadav, Rajesh Rishi, Anil Kumar, Som Dutt, Avtar Singh, Sukhvir Singh Dala, Manoj Kumar, Nitin Tyagi and Jarnail Singh.
The term ‘Office of Profit’ has been defined in the Constitution, which prohibits Members of Parliament and MLAs from accepting government positions which carry some financial remuneration or any other benefit such as office space or even a car. Any violation of this provision attracts disqualification of the legislator.
President Ram Nath Kovind had accepted the commission’s opinion early this year. However, the Delhi High Court, in a 79-page order passed in April, said that the Commission’s opinion had failed to “comply with the principles of natural justice” as the EC had not given the MLAs a hearing. The plea was then sent back to the Commission for fresh hearing.
The EC had not held a single hearing on the case after its ruling of June 23, 2017, when Nasim Zaidi was the Chief Election Commissioner. The poll panel’s last ruling had stated that “the Commission will intimate the next date of hearing to all the parties concerned in the present proceedings in due course”. However, it tendered its opinion to the President on January 19. The EC had defended its decision to not hold oral hearings on the merits of the case on the ground that the AAP MLAs were asked to present their defence in writing, but they didn’t seek an opportunity for personal hearing.