NEW DELHI: In a setback to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Election Commission (EC) has ruled that it would continue to hear a plea against 21 of its MLAs for allegedly holding offices of profit, despite the high court setting aside their appointments as parliamentary secretaries.
While the AAP had contended that the case against its legislators should be dropped after the Delhi High Court ruling, the poll watchdog observed, in its order yesterday, that the argument "holds no water".
The office of profit petition was filed by one Prashant Patel against 21 MLAs of the Arvind Kejriwal-led party.
Subsequently, the proceedings were dropped against Jarnail Singh after he resigned as the Rajouri Garden MLA to contest the Punjab Assembly polls.
The EC order stated that the commission was of the "considered opinion" that the MLAs were "de facto" parliamentary secretaries from March 13, 2015 to September 8, 2016.
The petitioner maintained that the court order should have no bearing on the case being heard by the EC as the MLAs were "enjoying the fruits" of those offices till their appointments were set aside by the high court.
The commission said it did not find anything in the Delhi High Court order, dated September 8, 2016, that said it set aside not only the appointments of the MLAs as parliamentary secretaries, but also the creation of those posts.
Reacting to the development, the AAP said it had all the "remedies available" to challenge the EC order.
"The recent order of the EC should not be misinterpreted.The Delhi High Court had declared the very order of appointment of the 21 parliamentary secretaries as null and void. Therefore, there is no question of hearing a petition for an office which never existed as per the high court."
"However, the EC has ruled that it would still hear the petition. All the remedies are available to challenge this order," the party said in a statement.
The BJP and the Congress were quick to attack the AAP on the issue.
Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken claimed that the rejection of the plea by the EC made it clear that the MLAs were liable to be prosecuted for the "perks and benefits they received illegally" and dared the AAP to face the electorate.
The BJP hoped that the EC would pronounce its final verdict on the issue very soon because the case had been pending for 14 months.
"If the EC today disqualifies the MLAs and orders fresh polls in these constituencies, we will win all the seats," said Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari.
The order comes days before Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi is scheduled to demit office in July.
Election Commissioner O P Rawat, who recused himself from the case after AAP supremo Kejriwal questioned his impartiality, has not signed the order.
On September 8, the high court had set aside the appointments of the 21 AAP MLAs as parliamentary secretaries, while observing that their order of appointment was issued without the concurrence of the Lieutenant Governor (LG).
A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal had set aside the government order dated March 13, 2015 after the counsel appearing for the Delhi government "conceded" that it was issued without taking the concurrence or views of the LG.
The poll panel had heard the case on December 16 last, before it got busy with the Assembly elections in five states.
On March 27, the EC had reserved its order on the issue.