The Delhi High Court on Monday transferred the Aam Aadmi Party’s appeal against the disqualification of 20 of its MLAs to a division bench, ANI reported. The court said the division bench would hear the matter on Tuesday.
The court also continued its interim order to the Election Commission to not announce dates for the Delhi bye-polls until further instructions. On Thursday, the bench had asked the poll monitor not to announce bye-election dates, but also refused to pass an interim order staying the disqualifications of the AAP legislators.
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 AAP MLAs 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.
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.