June 14, 2016 5:14:34 am
President Pranab Mukherjee is learned to have withheld assent to a Bill passed by the Delhi government in June 2015 to exempt the post of parliamentary secretary from the purview of an office-of-profit with retrospective effect. The decision raises questions over the fate of 21 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs holding the post of parliamentary secretaries.
On March 13, 2015, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had passed an order appointing the 21 party MLAs, including Alka Lamba, Jarnail Singh, Adarsh Shastri and Rajesh Gupta, as parliamentary secretaries.
Seeking to save these secretaries from disqualification provisions for holding two offices of profit at once, the Delhi government then sought to amend the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of the Disqualification) Act, 1997. The Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification Amendment) Bill- 2015 was forwarded by Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to the Centre, which in turn sent it to the President with its comments.
Official sources said Monday the President has withheld his assent to the Bill.
The Delhi government’s Bill 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,” it reads.
The opposition had questioned the Delhi government’s move. The Lt Governor had also said the office of parliamentary secretary is defined as an “office of profit if one looks at the statutes of Delhi” and that as per the GNCT Act, the city can have only one parliamentary secretary attached to the office of the Chief Minister.
Challenging the appointments as unconstitutional, Delhi lawyer Prashant Patel had 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.
Acting as a quasi judicial body, the Election Commission (EC), to whom the President referred the issue, has sought replies of the MLAs. The EC issued notices asking them to explain how their appointment as parliamentary secretaries does not fall under the purview of an office of profit, and why their Assembly membership should not be cancelled.
The 21 MLAs have sought a personal hearing before the EC. They have claimed that the post of parliamentary secretary does not come with any remuneration or power.
Kejriwal took to Twitter to express his anger. He said no MLA was given a single paisa, car or bungalow in their capacity as parliamentary secretary and said they were giving services for free.
“Modiji says all of you sit at home. Should not work,” he said adding MLAs were tasked to look after power supply, water supply, functioning of hospitals and schools. “Modiji says neither will work nor will allow to work,” Kejriwal said.
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