New Delhi: The Election Commission of India (EC) on Thursday told the Delhi High Court that the 20 disqualified AAP MLAs in an office-of-profit case were afforded ample hearing by it and there was no violation of the principle of natural justice as they had "willfully and deliberately" abstained from participating in the proceedings.
A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Chander Shekhar was informed by the commission that the MLAs were now taking a "vague defence" that they wished to adduce evidence in their support but had failed to do so when they were afforded the opportunity.
The poll panel submitted that the legislators had "willfully and deliberately" abstained from participating in the proceedings before the poll panel.
On the issue of recusal of then Election Commissioner OP Rawat, the EC said it was necessitated after a statement made by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal questioning the former's independence.
The EC said it afforded the MLAs ample opportunity to come and participate in several hearings, which clearly demonstrated and proved that the principles of natural justice have been duly complied with and adhered to.
"However, it's a matter of fact that the MLAs herein gave only illusory responses,” the EC's counsel Amit Sharma contended.
The counsel was responding to the claim of the AAP MLAs that they were held guilty of holding office-of-profit by the EC without giving them an opportunity to explain their stand and flouted the principles of natural justice.
The EC, however, said the defence of violation of principles of natural justice was not available to the MLAs in the present case. It also said that no evidence was ever produced by the Chief Minister of Delhi either by himself or through the MLAs to the EC regarding the allegations against Rawat.
"Thus, it is clear that the aforesaid statement made by the Chief Minister of Delhi was nothing but an attempt to malign the image of the said election commissioner and ensure his recusal from the proceedings, and to obfuscate the issues much less, to cause obstruction and delay in the proceedings, which ultimately would frustrate or obstruct the course of justice," the EC's counsel submitted.
The court was hearing the plea of the disqualified MLAs, found guilty of holding office of profit as parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the AAP government after it came to power in 2015. The MLAs had approached the high court challenging their disqualification after President Ram Nath Kovind gave his approval to the EC's recommendation.
The arguments on behalf of the EC, which remained inconclusive, will resume on 26 February.
The high court had on 24 January refused to stay the Centre's notification disqualifying them, but restrained the EC from taking any "precipitate measures" such as announcing dates for by polls to fill the vacancies. The EC had recommended the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs on 19 January.
The president had accepted the EC's opinion the very next day.
Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 22:26 PM