A day after President Pranab Mukherjee withheld assent to a bill passed by the Delhi legislative assembly to exempt the post of parliamentary secretary from the purview of the office of profit, the Aam Aadmi Party came under attack from the BJP and Congress for the ‘extra-judicial appointments.’
Even as AAP insisted that the parliamentary secretaries did not hold an ‘office of profit’, the BJP released documents from an RTI application showing that the 21 MLAs who held the post were allotted rooms as office space by the Speaker of the legislative assembly.
The legal and relevant definition of ‘office of profit’ and interpretation of ‘pecuniary benefit’ now remains at the core of the debate over the disqualification of the 21 parliamentary secretaries.
In their submission to the Election Commission, the 21 parliamentary secretaries had submitted a reply from the general administration department of the Delhi government which has stated that it had not spent any money in reimbursing the parliamentary secretaries nor had it assigned them separate office space or separate cars. Senior AAP leaders said that all legalities had been looked into and claimed there was no way to call the facilities given by the legislative assembly as ‘pecuniary benefits.’
The political slugfest between AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi promises to continues rage over the issue. More urgently, AAP will have to look for a sound legal bailout to the problem at hand. Even as Kejriwal insisted that the parliamentary secretaries were ‘not given a paisa’ and were working for ‘free’, the parliamentary secretaries will find it hard to explain their position before the Election Commission. The EC is likely to give each of them a personal hearing, following which it will write to the President on the next course of action.
As of now the AAP is brazening it out; it appears deceptively confident on the question of disqualification arguing that with no ‘pecuniary benefit’ given to the parliamentary secretaries there can be no grounds for disqualification.
In its defense, the party has also cited the appointment of parliamentary secretaries in other states that are constitutionally an office of profit. It has argued that in contrast, the AAP government’s parliamentary secretaries have not been given any perks or emoluments. The party says it had proposed to give to them office space and a car for official use – both of which, it claims, have not been given.
The documents released by BJP and the complex legal nature of the issue will many a twist to the controversy in the coming days. For now the parliamentary secretaries have stepped back and insist that only CM Arvind Kejriwal and the three party spokespersons will comment on the issue.
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