Delhi HC quashes qualification of 20 AAP MLAs, asks EC to hear matter afresh

Victory of truth, says Kejriwal Cong to pursue Office-of-profit case with poll panel
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Agencies
NEW DELHI
23 Mar 2018

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 quashed the Centre's notification disqualifying the AAP MLAs, saying the the EC's recommendation against the legislators was "bad in law" and "vitiated". Remanding the MLAs' plea back to the EC, 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.

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.

"It is a victory of truth," Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal Friday said after the Delhi High Court set aside the Centre's notification. Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia too welcomed the order as he joined the AAP legislators in thumping tables in the Delhi Assembly during its ongoing Budget session. The MLAs shouted "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" in the Assembly after the order. "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," Kejriwal tweeted. However, the Congress today said it would fight the office-of-profit case involving 20 AAP MLAs in the Election Commission of India (ECI) again, after the Delhi High Court set aside their disqualification and asked the poll panel to hear the matter afresh.

Reacting on the High Court order, Congress's Delhi unit president Ajay Maken tweeted: "We will fight it out in the Election Commission again as these 20 MLAs have enjoyed perks. HC has not disputed or denied this. The HC has just asked ECI to look at it again in the light of natural justice!" Maken claimed that the AAP government itself had admitted before the Election Commission that a huge amount was spent on office, furniture, transportation and perks for these MLAs who worked as Parliamentary secretaries.