Fearing the disqualification of its 21 parliamentary secretaries as MLAs because of the illegality of holding two offices of profit at once, the AAP government on Tuesday passed a bill to give exemption to these secretaries from disqualification with retrospect effect. However, the bill will be considered passed only when it gets the consent of the Lt-Governor and the President.
While the defences have been put in place with the legislation, there remains another worry for the government. A Delhi lawyer sent a petition to the President’s office after the state cabinet cleared the proposal keeping parliamentary secretaries out of the office-of-profit purview on June 19.
Prashant Patel, based at Karkardooma Court, filed the plea asking the President to take action against the creation of 21 “unconstitutional” posts by Delhi government. When contacted, Patel said, “I have been informed by the President House that the petition will be forwarded to the Election Commission within two days and the President will wait for their comments.”
President Pranab Mukherjee will take a decision on the fate of the secretaries after the EC sends its reply. Experts believe that even Lt-Governor would withhold assent to the bill until the President decides on the petition.
The bill passed on Tuesday reads: “Section 15 of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 provides that a person shall be disqualified for being chosen as and for being a member of Legislative Assembly if he holds any office of profit under Government of India or the government of any state and Union Territory other than any office declared by law made by Parliament or state legislative or of any Union Territory, not to disqualify its holder.”
The new provision makes room for MLAs to remain parliamentary secretaries without risking disqualification. “It is to declare that the office of the parliamentary secretary to the chief minister and ministers of the government of National Capital Territory of Delhi shall not be disqualified and shall be deemed never to have been disqualified for being chosen as, or for being, a member of Legislative Assembly of NCT Delhi. Accordingly it is proposed to amend the schedule,” reads the bill.
Former secretary of the Lok Sabha and Delhi Assembly, S K Sharma, said the post is unconstitutional and falls under the office-of-profit clause. In his book, The Powers and Limitations of A Delhi Government, Sharma wrote: “In the first Assembly…(when) Sahib Singh Verma took over as chief minister, he appointed one parliamentary secretary who resigned from the post after being told by experts that he could be disqualified.”
In the second Assembly, Sheila Dikshit appointed a parliamentary secretary and subsequently increased the number to three. A senior Congress leader said that the posts were unconstitutional and had anyone challenged them in court or with the President, they would have been disqualified as MLAs.
Congress’s Delhi unit chief Ajay Maken said, “The AAP government promised to keep high moral standards but they have become an unethical party by making decisions such as appointing 21 parliamentary secretaries.”