NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court’s ruling restoring 20 disqualified Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislators’ membership of the Delhi Assembly on Friday can be seen as a dent on the image of the Election Commission, even though the relief granted to the MLAs is temporary, constitutional experts said.
“The court has just ordered the poll panel to hear the 20 AAP MLAs again. It is just a temporary relief for the party as the ECI will start hearing the case in the next few weeks. The process will take months. It is unlikely that the ECI will move the Supreme Court against the High Court order as they will just have to listen to the versions of the AAP MLAs. Though the order, we can say, is a dent on the ECI’s image,” S K Sharma, a constitutional expert, said.
Subhash Kashyap, while echoing Sharma’s view that the EC was unlikely to move the apex court, said, “The order does not say anywhere that the EC was wrong. It did not comment on the president’s approval of the disqualification. It only wanted the poll panel to hear the MPs again. Also, the time factor needs to be taken into consideration. In all likelihood, the poll panel can complete the proceedings on its own faster than appealing against the order.”
Speaking on the likely ways forward, Kashyap said that the EC had only two legal options. First, to appeal in the top court or comply with the High Court’s order. However, he said that the poll panel would be keen on finishing the proceedings pertaining to the case before the 2019 polls.The Delhi High Court has directed the poll panel to hear the office of profit case of the 20 MLAs again. The EC had disqualified the lawmakers for holding offices of profit by virtue of being parliamentary secretaries.
“Opinion of the ECI dated 19th January, 2018 is vitiated and bad in law for failure to comply with the principles of natural justice,” the High court said in its order. “Order of remand is passed to the ECI to hear arguments and thereafter decide the all important and seminal issue; what is meant by the expression “office of profit held under the Government” and re-examine the factual matrix to decide whether the petitioners had incurred disqualification on appointment as parliamentary secretaries, without being influenced by the earlier order or observations on the said aspect in this order,” a bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and Chander Shekhar said in the order.
Office of profit case: How it unfolded
Mar 13, 2015: Kejriwal Government passes an order to appoint 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries.
Jun 19: Appointment challenged by advocate Prashant Patel, who seeks disqualification of MLAs. Approaches President Pranab Mukherjee.
Jun 24: Legislative Assembly passes the Delhi Member of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) (Amendment Bill), 2015 excluding parliamentary secretaries from ‘Office of Profit’ with retrospective effect.
Jun 13, 2016: President Mukherjee refuses to give his assent to the Bill.
Jun 25: Centre returns 14 bills passed by Delhi government, including the Bill on parliamentary secretaries.
Jul 14-21: EC gives hearing to 21 AAP MLAs.
Sept 8, 2016: The Delhi HC sets aside an order of the Kejriwal government appointing 21 of the party’s MLAs as parliamentary secretaries.
Sept 8: EC issues a show cause notice to 21 AAP MLAs.
Jan 6, 2017: Jarnail Singh, AAP MLA from Rajouri Garden, resigns.
Jun 24: EC rejects pleas of AAP MLAs to drop ‘Office of Profit’ case.
Aug: The 20 AAP MLAs move HC against the EC’s June 24 order.
Oct 9: EC issues notice to AAP MLAs, seeks explanation.
Jan 19, 2018: EC recommends disqualification to President Ram Nath Kovind.
Jan 20: President Kovind approves the EC’s recommendation of disqualifying 20 AAP MLAs.
Jan 24 : MLAs move High Court seeking quashing of the decision.
Feb 7: The HC fixes day-to-day hearing of the MLAs’ pleas.
Feb 28: The HC reserves order on AAP MLAs’ pleas.
Mar 23: The HC quashes notification that had led to disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs.