Setting aside the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs, the Delhi High Court Friday said the Election Commission recommendation in the office-of-profit case was “bad in law”, “vitiated” and failed to “comply with the principles of natural justice”. The High Court directed the EC to hear the matter afresh and also decide the “all important and seminal issue” of what is meant by “office-of-profit in government”.
In a 79-page order, a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Chander Shekhar said the January 19 opinion of the EC — that disqualified the 20 MLAs — was “vitiated” as the EC had not given the MLAs a hearing and remanded the plea back to the EC. With the order effectively reinstating the legislators, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said it was a “victory of truth” while Assembly Speaker Ram Niwas Goel said that he would now allow the 20 MLAs to attend the ongoing budget session.
Express Explained | What is the office-of-profit case?
The 20 MLAs had been appointed parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the Delhi government in March 2015, after the AAP’s stunning victory in the assembly elections. In September 2016, the Delhi High Court had ruled against this appointment. On January 20, President Ram Nath Kovind, on the EC’s recommendation, had disqualified all 20 for holding an office-of-profit.
The Delhi High Court, on January 24, had refused to stay the notification disqualifying the legislators but had restrained the EC from taking “precipitate measures” such as announcing poll dates.
सत्य की जीत हुई। दिल्ली के लोगों द्वारा चुने हुए प्रतिनिधियों को ग़लत तरीक़े से बर्खास्त किया गया था। दिल्ली हाई कोर्ट ने दिल्ली के लोगों को न्याय दिया। दिल्ली के लोगों की बड़ी जीत। दिल्ली के लोगों को बधाई। https://t.co/eDayHziHSn
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 23, 2018
In its order, the High Court said principles of natural justice had been violated since the legislators were not given an opportunity to be heard. “Opinion of the ECI dated January 19 is vitiated and bad in law for failure to comply with principles of natural justice,” it said. The HC issued ordered “quashing” of the opinion and “ the consequent order/notification dated January 20, 2018, for violation of principles of natural justice.”
These violations, the bench said, were the Election Commission’s “failure to give oral hearing and opportunity to address arguments on merits of the issue whether the petitioners had incurred disqualification”, “failure to inform that Mr. OP Rawat had expressed his intention to rejoin proceedings after his recusal” and finally that “Mr. Sunil Arora had not participated and no hearings were held before him.”
Chief Election Commissioner, OP Rawat had recused himself from cases related to the AAP after Kejriwal had questioned his independence on April 20 last year, when Rawat was an Election Commissioner. Rawat agreed to rejoin the proceedings on September 22, 2017, without informing the AAP. Arora had signed the January 19 recommendation to disqualify the MLAs.
The court directed the EC to hear the arguments again. It said, “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’.”
The HC also asked the EC to “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.”
Many of the MLAs disqualified after the January 19 order were present in court Friday when the EC recommendation was quashed. Immediately after, the jubilant MLAs congratulated each other and made plans to go straight to the Assembly. One of them, Chandni Chowk MLA Alka Lamba said, “This is a massive victory for us, it is a victory for truth. We will continue to raise the voice of the people in the Legislative Assembly.”
Timeline | How the ‘office of profit’ case unfolded
AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj alleged that the disqualification was recommended to “please the Centre”. “ In the entire country, it will be a big thing for small parties that the conspiracies of Centre, which is drunk on arrogance and is trying to crush them, can stop,” he said.
Senior party leader Ashutosh alleged, “The EC’s decision was a serious attempt to dislodge the duly elected AAP government. The EC’s decision to disqualify AAP MLAs was not only constitutionally invalid but it also exposes how low the constitutional authority can stoop.”