NEW DELHI: In a major relief to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Delhi High Court today sets aside the disqualification of its 20 MLAs in the office-of-profit case and directed the Election Commission (EC) to hear the matter afresh.
A bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and Chander Shekhar said that the Centre's notification disqualifying the AAP MLAs was bad in law and remanded their plea back to the EC.
Terming the EC's recommendation on disqualification as "vitiated", the bench said that there was violation of natural justice and no oral hearing was given to the MLAs before disqualifying them as legislators of the Delhi Assembly.
"Opinion of Election Commission of India (given to the President of India) dated January 19, 2018, is vitiated and bad in law for failure to comply with principles of natural justice," the court said.
An elated Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said it is a victory of truth.
"The elected representatives were wrongfully disqualified. The high court has given justice to the people of Delhi. It is their victory. Congratulations to the people of Delhi," the AAP chief tweeted.
सत्य की जीत हुई। दिल्ली के लोगों द्वारा चुने हुए प्रतिनिधियों को ग़लत तरीक़े से बर्खास्त किया गया था। दिल्ली हाई कोर्ट ने दिल्ली के लोगों को न्याय दिया। दिल्ली के लोगों की बड़ी जीत। दिल्ली के लोगों को बधाई। https://t.co/eDayHziHSn— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 23, 2018
The bench, in its 79-page order, said that the opinion (of EC) is quashed for "violation of principle of natural justice namely failure to give oral hearing and opportunity to address arguments on merits of the issue".
"The order of remand is passed to the Election Commission of India to hear arguments and thereafter decide all the important and seminal issues, like what is meant by expression office-of-profit held under the government," the court said.
It asked the EC to "re-examine the factual matrix to decide whether the petitioners (AAP MLAs) had incurred disqualification on appointment as parliamentary secretaries, without being influenced by the earlier order or observations on the said aspect in this order.
The judgement was read out by justice Sanjiv Khanna in a jam-packed courtroom, after which the jubilant AAP MLAs, who were present there, congratulated each other.
The MLAs, who were appointed parliamentary secretaries, had challenged their disqualification for holding office-of-profit.
During the arguments, the MLAs had requested the court to remand their case back to the poll panel with a direction to hear the matter afresh.
They had approached the high court challenging their disqualification after President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the EC's recommendation.
Backing its recommendation to the President for AAP MLAs' disqualification, the poll panel had submitted that the legislators cannot claim that they were not holding office-of-profit.
It had also claimed that their pleas were not maintainable and were liable to be dismissed.
The MLAs are accused of holding offices of profit, as they were appointed parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the Delhi government in March 2015.
This was soon after they were elected to the Delhi Assembly.
In September 2016, the Delhi High Court had ruled against their appointment as parliamentary secretaries, after hearing their pleas on a daily basis since February 7.
The high court had on January 24 refused to stay the Centre's notification disqualifying them, but had restrained the poll panel from taking any "precipitate measures" such as announcing dates for by polls to fill the vacancies.
The EC had on January 19 recommended the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs - Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri, Sanjeev Jha, Rajesh Gupta, Kailash Gahlot, Vijendra Garg, Praveen Kumar, Sharad Kumar, Madan Lal, 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.
The president had accepted the EC's opinion the next day.