Office of profit: is EC about to disqualify 21 AAP legislators?
The Aam Aadmi Party is in trouble. The Election Commission has reportedly found no provision in the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, and other statues that allows the appointment of parliamentary secretary to a minister in Delhi.
A note prepared after the EC examined representations made by the 21 AAP MLAs appointed parliamentary secretaries indicates their appointments may be declared invalid. The EC had issued notices to them in March.
The EC took up the matter after a Delhi-based lawyer, Prashant Patel, petitioned the President in June 2015, saying the AAP government had created unconstitutional posts. He asked that 21 MLAs holding the posts should be disqualified. The petition was sent to the EC, which then sent notices to the MLAs.
In case the 21 MLAs are disqualified, Delhi may see a mini-election. In a clean sweep in the last assembly election, the AAP had won 67 of the 70 seats. The newly-formed party had greatly benefited by campaigning on an anti-corruption campaign and promising to make governance transparent. The party has since lost much of the sheen, at least on the issue of corruption. Its transport minister in Delhi Gopal Rai recently resigned over charges of corruption.
The MLAs facing disqualification had reportedly told the EC that they were merely working as "interns" to the ministers, a claim that hasn't cut ice. They also said that a parliamentary secretary was merely a post and not an office since they were not provided with an office space or office-support systems. They also argued that assisting a minister didn't amount to holding an office.
Although all the 21 MLAs have been allotted a room each in Vidhan Sabha, they argue that it is not a pecuniary benefit since MLAs on various assembly committees are also allotted rooms.
'We did no wrong'
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has claimed that the 21 parliamentary secretaries are his government's eyes, ears and hands. "Your fight is with me. Beat me if you wish, do whatever you want to me, but do not harass the people of Delhi. Don't try to stop the good work being done in Delhi," he said, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and suggesting that AAP was being unfairly targeted. In this particular case, however, the allegations that the Centre is targeting the AAP government do not seem to carry water.
Kejriwal and his party have claimed that the parliamentary secretaries were not getting salaries or perks and hence didn't come under the ambit of office of profit.
Patel, the petitioner, however, claimed that the MLAs "enjoyed office and perks at the cost of the state". In his submission to the EC, the lawyer had listed the perks given to the MLAs.
After Patel petitioned the president, the AAP regime, in a bid to salvage the situation, had sought to amend the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly Act to exclude the post of parliamentary secretary as an office of profit. The bill, however, did not get the president's assent. The fate of the 21 MLAs is now in the hands of the EC. It is, however, unlikely to decide in their favour. If the EC does disqualify them, the MLAs would only have the courts to turn to as a last resort.