The Election Commission is learnt to have recommended to the president the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs for allegedly holding an office of profit.
In its opinion sent to President Ram Nath Kovind, the Election Commission said that by being parliamentary secretaries, they held an office of profit and were liable to be disqualified as MLAs of the Delhi Assembly, highly placed sources said.
The president is bound to go by the recommendation of the Commission. In cases where petitions are made seeking disqualification of lawmakers, the president sends a reference to the EC which decides on the case by sending back its opinion.
According to a News18 report, sources said if the president accepts the recommendation, Delhi will see a mini-Assembly election, with 20 seats up for grabs in the 70-member House.
The EC's recommendation serves as a major jolt to the ruling party in Delhi. The election body was hearing a plea against the party's nearly two dozen MLAs. They were accused of allegedly holding an office of profit despite the Delhi High Court setting aside their appointment as parliamentary secretaries.
The decision comes days before Achal Kumar Joti retires as the Chief Election Commissioner. Election Commissioner OP Rawat, who recused himself from the case after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had questioned his impartiality, has not signed the order.
When contacted by PTI, Joti said that since the matter is sub-judice, he would not offer any comment on the issue.
What is an office of profit?
An office of profit means a position that brings to the person holding it some financial gain, or advantage, or benefit. It may be an office or place of profit if it carries some remuneration, financial advantage, benefit etc. The amount of such profit is immaterial.
How the controversy started
The "office of profit" controversy was sparked off after a 30-year old lawyer, Prashant Patel, filed an application in 2015 to the president's office, questioning the appointment of AAP MLAs as parliamentary secretaries.
In 2015, soon after AAP swept the Delhi elections, Kejriwal had appointed 21 legislators as parliamentary secretaries. The petition filed in the high court had sought their disqualification saying the Constitution does not allow elected representatives to hold offices of profit. The Election Commission was asked to give its opinion, according to an NDTV report.
The AAP had said the recommendation was based on false allegations, alleging that the "BJP through its agents seriously compromises the prestige of the EC just to divert the attention of the nation from its all-around failures.
"What (the) Modi government appointed Election Commission is leaking to the media is a recommendation made without hearing the arguments of MLAs on the false allegation of office of profit. Such a blatantly biased recommendation will not stand scrutiny in the court of law.
"This must be the first ever recommendation in EC history where a recommendation has been sent without even hearing the main matter on merits. No hearing took place in the EC on the point of office of profit," AAP spokesperson Nagendra Sharma had tweeted.
According to a Hindustan Times report, the poll panel, in June last year, had said that the AAP MLAs "did hold de facto the office of parliamentary secretaries".
The panel last year in October issued a notice to the AAP MLAs seeking an explanation after rejecting their pleas to drop the 'office of profit' case against them.
In March 2015, the AAP government passed an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, to exempt the posts of parliamentary secretary from the definition of office of profit with retrospective effect.
But then president Pranab Mukherjee refused to give assent, following which the appointments were set aside by the Delhi High Court in September 2016, declaring them illegal since the order had been passed "without concurrence/approval of the Lt Governor".
According to the News18 report, the AAP has an option to challenge the Election Commission ruling in the higher court.
The move will pave the way for bypolls in Delhi for 20 constituencies of the 70-member Assembly after presidential assent. The AAP at present has officially 66 members in the House although some have since turned dissidents. The other four seats are held by the BJP.
Even if 20 MLAs are disqualified, the ruling party will still have a comfortable majority in the Delhi Assembly.
The MLAs who face axe are Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri, Sanjeev Jha, Rajesh Gupta, Kailash Gehlot, Vijendra Garg, Praveen Kumar, Sharad Kumar, Madan Lal Khufiya, Shiv Charan Goyal, Sarita Singh, Naresh Yadav, Rajesh Rishi, Anil Kumar, Som Dutt, Avtar Singh, Sukhvir Singh Dala, Manoj Kumar, Nitin Tyagi and Jarnail Singh (Tilak Nagar).
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 16:27 PM