New Delhi: The Election Commission has recommended that 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs embroiled in the office of profit case be disqualified.
Sources said the EC has forwarded its recommendation to the President. If the President accepts the recommendation, Delhi will see a mini-assembly election with 20 seats up for grabs in the 70-member House.
Initially, 21 MLAs were named in the case. The number came down to 20 after Rajouri Garden MLA Jarnail Singh resigned to contest against Parkash Singh Badal in the Punjab Assembly elections.
In 2015, AAP had suspended Cabinet Minister Asim Ahmed Khan and the following year, it sacked another minister Sandeep Kumar who was embroiled in a sex scandal. In the AAP cabinet reshuffle, Kapil Mishra rebelled against the party after he was sacked. AAP MLA from Rajouri Garden quit his post to contest the Punjab Assembly elections but the AAP failed to win the bypoll. After this, the number dropped from 67 MLAs to 63. After the disqualification of 20 MLAs, the AAP’s strength will reduce to 42.
The EC decision comes days before Achal Kumar Joti retires as the Chief Election Commissioner. Interestingly, the OP Rawat, the next Chief Election Commissioner, had decided to recuse himself from hearing all AAP related issues. This came after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal questioned his impartiality in a media interview in April, 2017.
The option before AAP is to challenge the Election Commission ruling in the higher court. In August 2017, the Delhi High Court had refused to entertain AAP MLAs' plea for staying the Commission's order upholding maintainability of the petition.
The ground on which the High Court had quashed was that since EC's proceedings on hearing the central issue of whether the MLAs had indeed held 'office of profit' were yet to begin, there was no scope for a stay.
The issue in front of the Election Commission was whether the office of Parliamentary Secretary in the GNCTD, 1991 constitutes an ‘office of profit’. Article 191 of the Constitution has not defined what is an ‘office of profit’ which has paved the way to the Courts to lay down the law
The entire issue came into existence when on March 13, 2015, the Arvind Kejriwal government passed an order appointing 21 MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries. This was challenged by Advocate Prashant Patel who petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee on June 19, 2015, that these MLAs were now holding ‘office of profit’ and should be disqualified.
The Delhi Legislative Assembly, then passed the Delhi Member of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) ( Amendment Bill ), 2015 excluding Parliamentary Secretaries from “ office of profit’ with retrospective effect.
However, the President withheld assent to the amendment bill and referred the matter to the Election Commission.