The Delhi High Court on Wednesday told the Election Commission not to issue a notification for the bye-elections in Delhi till Monday when it will take up the plea filed by 20 disqualified Aam Aadmi Party legislators next, ANI reported.
The court also refused to pass an interim order to stay the disqualification of the legislators in the office-of-profit case, PTI reported.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by the MLAs challenging President Ram Nath Kovind’s decision to disqualify them based on the recommendation of the Election Commission. Bye-elections have to be held within six months after the Ministry of Home Affairs follows up on the president’s order to disqualify the 20 AAP MLAs.
The court also sought a reply from all respondents, including the Election Commission, on the disqualified legislators.
On Monday, the 20 disqualified legislators withdrew their earlier plea in the Delhi High Court seeking a stay on the Election Commission’s recommendation. This was because their petition was deemed “infructuous” as Kovind had already issued a notification to disqualify them.
AAP had alleged that the Election Commission had not given them a fair hearing before sending its recommendation to the president.
The MLAs are accused of holding offices of profit in the past as they were appointed parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the Delhi government in March 2015. This was soon after they were elected to the Delhi Assembly. In September 2016, the Delhi High Court had scrapped their appointment as parliamentary secretaries.
Political parties in power usually appoint as parliamentary secretaries those MLAs who are not given a position in the government.
In response to the Election Commission’s notices in March 2016, the AAP government had passed a bill amending the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, to exempt the post from the definition of “office of profit”. The party maintained that the legislators did not hold offices of profit as they were not getting “pecuniary benefit”.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had claimed that they were “working for free”. But former President Pranab Mukherjee had rejected the bill in June 2016.
After the Delhi High Court set aside the MLAs’ appointment as parliamentary secretaries in September 2016, the MLAs told the Election Commission that since the High Court had declared their appointment null and void, the poll panel could not hear a petition against them for holding an office that never existed.
The commission did not agree with their view and wrote to the president that the MLAs “did hold de facto the office of parliamentary secretaries” from March 13, 2015 to September 8, 2016.