EVEN AS the Delhi High Court cancelled the appointments of 21 AAP parliamentary secretaries, the party argued that if the appointments are unconstitutional then the case being heard by the Election Commission (EC) on holding two offices of profit also stands weakened.
While the Opposition called it a big jolt to the government, the parliamentary secretaries said their role was “advisory” in nature and they would continue to assist the cabinet ministers.
AAP Delhi unit convenor Dilip Pandey told The Indian Express, “If the HC has deemed the appointments unconstitutional, then what case is the EC going to hear? The AAP government had gone to court to clarify the August 4 order and it stands settled that the posts were unconstitutional… We are not celebrating the decision but it is foolish to say it is a big jolt to the government. The secretaries never enjoyed any pecuniary benefits. They were assisting the ministers purely on a voluntary basis, which they will continue to do. We were never worried about their dismissal, even now we are not.”
One of the parliamentary secretaries said, “The decision will not affect the government’s work. All the secretaries were appointed on the basis of their expertise in certain fields, and their role was entirely advisory in nature. We did not receive any benefits. Therefore, nothing changes for us. As for our assistance to the respective cabinet ministers, we will anyway continue to do so as MLAs.”
A section of the party, however, pointed out that some departments with heavy workload such as health — which had three parliamentary secretaries assisting the minister — and education and transport are most likely to suffer following the court order. These are departments in which the government has introduced key initiatives such as mohalla clinics and a massive revamp of schools among others.
Some secretaries pointed out that so far, they have assisted in resolving minor grievances and issues in various departments and relieved cabinet ministers of a lot of ground work.
Meanwhile, senior party leaders continued to consult legal experts on the various possibilities following the order. Leaders said they would make a strong case in the EC against disqualification of the MLAs on the ground that if the appointment is nullified, then there is no question of holding two offices of profit. “It was a post and not an office. We have to be clear about this,” said a secretary.
Legal experts differ
Legal experts, however, said the argument may not pass muster with the Election Commission (EC).
Speaking to The Indian Express, Constitutional law expert Subhash Kashyap said the issues being considered by the high court and the EC were “different”.
“The issue of office of profit is not a part of the HC order. Appointments of parliamentary secretaries have been set aside and now cease to exist. However, the issue of disqualification comes from the fact of appointment. There can’t be a retrospective argument. If the EC finds that the office of parliamentary secretary was one of profit, then they can be disqualified,” said Kashyap.
Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan said, “AAP can argue that there is no appointment at all, but the fact is that they tried to create the post and the MLAs were put in the post. I will argue that you cannot take benefit of your own wrong just because your notification was slipshod and was set aside,” he said.