Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, referred to in the Delhi High Court judgment Friday that set aside the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs, has said that the court order should be complied with in “letter and spirit”. Calling it his personal view, Arora told The Indian Express, “I have not gone through the full text of the court order, but my very clear view is that the directions of the honourable court should and shall be complied with in letter and spirit.” “I am told that the legal department of the Election Commission of India will be putting up the highlights of the judgment before the full Commission at the earliest,” he added.
The Delhi High Court set aside the disqualification of AAP legislators on Friday on the ground that the EC’s opinion was “bad in law” and against principles of natural justice as it decided the matter without holding any hearing on the merits of the office-of-profit complaint.
Express Explained | What is the office-of-profit case?
The full Commission — comprising Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) O P Rawat and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Arora — hasn’t taken a collective view on the above verdict. When contacted by The Indian Express on Friday, Rawat did not comment saying he had not read the judgement. This is the first time in over 20 years that the Commission’s opinion in an office-of-profit case has been set aside by a court.
The last time this happened was in 1991 when the EC disqualified Janata Dal leader Ramakrishna Hedge for holding an office-of-profit as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. In 1992, the Karnataka High Court quashed Hegde’s disqualification on the ground that he didn’t profit from the office as he voluntarily refused to draw the salary attached to the position.
Unlike the Hegde case where the High Court put an end to the matter by quashing the disqualification, the Delhi High Court has returned the AAP matter to EC and asked it to hear the case all over again.
The EC’s conduct in the office-of-profit case against the AAP MLAs, which was tendered to President Ram Nath Kovind on January, was questioned by the party and former CECs for not following due process. The Commission had decided the matter without holding a personal hearing even though its last order of June 23, 2017 clearly stated that “the Commission will intimate the next date of hearing to all the concerned parties in the present proceedings in due course”.
AAP had also questioned the timing of EC’s opinion as it came just two days before the then CEC A K Joti was about to retire. The fact that the President’s office accepted EC’s opinion passed disqualification orders for the 20 MLAs in a day had also raised eyebrows.
Although the Delhi High Court verdict is being perceived as a setback for the Commissioner as it describes EC’s opinion as “bad in law”, Joti claims that the legislators were given adequate opportunity to present their side of the case.
Contacted on Friday, he said, “They were given sufficient opportunity to give their representation. But they did not given any representation. The first notice went in September and then another in November. So it’s not like an opportunity was not given. I don’t want to comment on the High Court’s order I suggest that you speak to present Chief Election Commissioner for more on this.”