New election commissioner Om Prakash Rawat defends AAP MLAs' disqualification, says party didn't ask for hearing

Three days after 20 AAP MLA were disqualified by the Election Commission of India for holding office of profit, newly appointed Chief Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat on Monday defended his predecessor's decision.

Responding to Aam Aadmi Party's allegation that the Election Commission did not give its plea a hearing since March last year, Rawat, a 1977-batch Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS officer, told The Indian Express that the party did not avail of two opportunities for requesting a hearing on the matter.

The Election Commission said it sent notices to the 20 AAP MLAs on 28 September and 2 November last year, in which they were asked to file their written submissions on the matter. The new chief election commissioner said these notices were sent to the MLAs to give them a chance defend themselves. "If they felt the need for oral evidences, then they should have pointed it out and we would have fixed a date for hearing. But you (AAP) are not talking of that. You are talking of something that is already known to the commission," the report quoted Rawat as saying.

PTI had earlier quoted AAP leader Gopal Rai as saying that the Election Commission had not given the party MLAs a date of hearing after 13 March, 2017.

 New election commissioner Om Prakash Rawat defends AAP MLAs disqualification, says party didnt ask for hearing

File image of new CEC Om Prakash Rawat. PTI

Rawat had also come under attack from Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who doubted his neutrality. In April last year, Rawat had recused himself from the office of profit case in the aftermath of Kejriwal's allegation. However, the report on The Indian Express said Rawat began hearing the cases again after Nasim Zaidi retired in July last year.

What is the office of profit row

The AAP government in 2015 had appointed 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries.

However, in September 2016, the Delhi High Court declared the order as illegal. A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal said that the appointment was done without the concurrence of the lieutenant governor.

Moreover, in June 2015, Uttar Pradesh-based lawyer Prashant Patel called the appointment an "office of profit" and petitioned the Election Commission to disqualify the MLAs.

On 19 January, the Election Commission recommended to the President of India to disqualify 20 of its MLAs for holding offices of profit, setting the stage for their ouster from the Assembly.

Two days later, President Ram Nath Kovind accepted the Election Commission's recommendation to disqualify the 20 MLAs.  A notification issued by the law ministry quoted the president as saying that in the light of the opinion expressed by the Election Commission, the 20 MLAs have been disqualified.

"... having considered the matter in the light of the opinion expressed by the Election Commission, I, Ram Nath Kovind, President of India, in exercise of the powers... do here hold that the aforesaid 20 members of the Delhi Legislative Assembly stand disqualified from being members of the said Assembly," the notification said.

All 20 MLAs had moved the Delhi High Court challenging the EC's recommendation, but Justice Rekha Palli had refused to pass any interim order. However, they withdrew their petitions in Delhi High Court on Monday  saying they would move fresh pleas in the matter.

The legislators said that they would be moving fresh petitions as their earlier pleas became infructuous after Kovind put a stamp of approval on the Election Commission's recommendation.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2018 11:27:53 IST