Office of profit: poll panel rejects AAP MLAs’ request

The Election Commission on Tuesday rejected the request for cross-examination of the petitioner in the 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs’ disqualification case and fixed the final arguments on the office-of-profit charge for July 23.

In its 70-page order, the EC said, “There is no occasion and need for cross-examination of the petitioner as he is not a witness in the present proceedings”. The respondents had also failed to make out a case for calling any witness as pleaded in their applications, it added.

After the hearing resumed in May on Delhi High Court’s directive, the MLAs had moved applications seeking cross-examination of the petitioner, Prashant Patel, and calling of some witnesses.

‘Clear and precise’

The Commission said the High Court’s direction was very clear and precise, that was “to hear arguments on the most important and seminal issue as to ‘what constitutes an office-of-profit under the government’ and then re-examine the factual matrix to ascertain if the MLAs had incurred disqualification upon being appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries”.

There was no direction for cross-examination of the petitioner, said the order.

Six hearings so far

The EC has so far held six hearings. On the Commission’s recommendation, the President had earlier disqualified the MLAs on office-of-profit charge in January.

The legislators approached the High Court, which quashed their disqualification in March and granted them relief by ordering further oral EC hearing of arguments on the issue.

The office-of-profit issue was raised after the Delhi government appointed 21 AAP MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries in March 2015.

The State government then moved an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification Act) to exempt the post from the definition of “office-of-profit”.

However, the then President Pranab Mukherjee rejected the proposed amendment.

In June 2015, advocate Prashant Patel petitioned the President seeking disqualification of the MLAs.

The petition was referred to the EC for an opinion, following which the Commission issued notices to the legislators in March 2016 seeking their response.

Meanwhile, on September 8, 2016, the High Court set aside the appointments observing that the State government had not taken the concurrence of the Delhi Lieutenant-Governor.

The MLAs’ argument that the petition before the EC had been rendered infructuous with the High Court decision being rejected by the Commission, on the grounds that they had nevertheless held the posts de facto.

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