Twenty AAP MLAs on Tuesday told the Delhi High Court that the Election Commission of India (ECI’s) order disqualifying them for allegedly holding office-of-profit was passed in “complete violation of natural justice” as they were not given the opportunity to explain their stand before the poll panel. A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Chander Shekhar was also requested by the legislators to remand their case back to the ECI with a direction to hear the case afresh.
“There was no communication to us (AAP MLAs) from the ECI about the hearing before it. It is in complete violation of natural justice,” senior advocate K V Viswanathan, appearing for some of the MLAs, said. The submissions on behalf of the MLAs came during the nearly four-hour-long hearing of their pleas challenging their disqualification. The MLAs’ counsel submitted that the ECI order was “wrong and erroneous” and the poll panel had failed to discharge its statutory duty and was “unfortunately not acting fairly”.
“In the present case, the members of the Delhi legislative assembly were removed without holding a full-fledged inquiry and without giving them any opportunity to explain if they ever held any office of profit,” the bench was told. Their counsel also complained that the counsel for the central government has not even produced the file containing the reference of the poll panel, on which the President had given his assent to disqualify them.
To this, the bench asked Centr’s standing counsel Anil Soni to take instructions by tomorrow on the production of the file containing the ECI’s reference before the court. The MLAs had approached the high court challenging their disqualification after President Ram Nath Kovind gave his nod to the ECI recommendation. Backing their recommendations to the President for AAP MLAs’ disqualification, the poll panel had submitted that the legislators cannot claim that they were not holding office-of-profit.
“They were involved in the day-to-day administrative functions of the ministers, with whom they were attached. They were not entitled to look into the executive works of the ministers,” the ECI’s counsel had argued. The arguments on behalf of the ECI and other parties, which remained inconclusive, will resume on Wednesday.
The high court had on January 24 refused to stay the Centre’s notification disqualifying them, but had restrained the poll panel from taking any “precipitate measures” such as announcing dates for by polls to fill the vacancies. The ECI had recommended the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs on January 19. The President had accepted the ECI’s opinion the very next day.