In a big setback for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Election Commission on Friday recommended that 20 of its MLAs be disqualified for holding 'office of profit'.
The EC has sent its recommendation to the President for his assent, which he's fully expected to give. 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. Under the Constitution, the president is bound to act in accordance with the poll panel's recommendation.
The 20 AAP legislators were accused of being unconstitutionally appointed as parliamentary secretaries to assist various ministers of the Delhi government.
Initially, the case was against 21 MLAs but it now stands at 20 after Rajouri Garden MLA Jarnail Singh resigned to contest against Parkash Singh Badal in the Punjab Assembly elections last year.
The EC’s opinion on this matter means that the AAP legislators are set to be disqualified, which could soon force a mini Assembly election in the national capital.
The controversy over the "office of profit" started soon after the party's victory in the 2015 Assembly elections in Delhi. A petition filed by lawyer Prashant Patel sought the disqualification of the MLAs on the grounds that they were holding an 'office of profit'.
Seven MLAs later moved the Delhi High Court against the Election Commission's (EC) recommendation to disqualify them.
The pleas by MLAs was mentioned before a bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal for urgent hearing, which was listed for today itself.
However, the Delhi High Court refused to grant interim relief to AAP MLAs in the Office of Profit Case.
The high court asked the ECI to inform it by January 22 whether any final communication has been sent to the President Ram Nath Kovind on the disqualification of the MLAs.
Justice Rekha Palli made it clear that she was not inclined to pass any order or issue notice and asked the ECI to clarify the queries raised by her.
However, during the brief hearing, the judge questioned the conduct of the MLAs before the ECI and said they didn't appear before the poll panel taking shield of the fact that their pleas were pending in the high court.
AAP leader Ashutosh lashed out at the poll panel, saying the EC had never "touched so low ever”.
"The EC should not be the letter box of the PMO. But that is the reality today,” tweeted the journalist-turned-politician.
"It is a recommendation made without hearing the arguments of MLAs on the false allegation of office of profit,” said Nagendar Sharma, media advisor to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
After the EC recommendations, both the Congress and the BJP demanded chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation.
"Kejriwal has no right to continue. Half of his cabinet ministers were removed on corruption charges. Twenty MLAs who were enjoying ministerial perks would be disqualified,” Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken said in a tweet.
BJP MLA and Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly, Vijender Gupta said it was "a huge moral defeat” for the Chief Minister and hence, he should resign on ethical grounds.
According to the Constitution, Members of Parliament or legislators are prohibited from accepting government positions which carry some financial remuneration or any other benefit such as office space, accomodation, or even a car. Any violation of this provision attracts disqualification of the legislator for holding an office of profit. The aim of this provision is to preserve the independence of the legislature by keeping its members away from any temptations from the executive.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which won 67 of the 70 Assembly seats, continues to enjoy a majority in the Delhi Assembly even after the disqualification of the 20 MLAs.