Delhi HC sets aside EC decision to disqualify 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs

A judge hitting gavel with paper at wooden table. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The Delhi High Court on Friday set aside the Election Commission (EC)’s decision to disqualify 20 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislators in Delhi.

In recent months, the EC has been criticised for delaying the Gujarat assembly polls. The latest episode led to political parties and former election commissioners questioning the EC’s “hurry”, particularly that of now retired chief election commissioner A K Joti, in recommending disqualification of AAP legislators without following due process.

A Bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and Chander Shekhar asked the EC to hear the matter afresh. It described the Centre’s notification disqualifying the AAP legislators as bad in law, and termed EC’s recommendation on disqualification as “vitiated”.

The bench said the principle of natural justice was violated as no oral hearing was given to the MLAs before disqualifying them as legislators of the Delhi Assembly.

Former Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, didn’t quite term it a credibility crisis for the EC, but told Business Standard: “The judiciary have always upheld our decisions. The decision in case of AAP MLAs is embarrassing and is also a setback.”

Another Election Commissioner, who didn’t want to be named, was more forthright in his observation. “Never in the history the EC has ruled without hearing the accused party,” he said. The former Election Commissioner also said that the “timing of the EC judgment was also conspicuous as it came a few days before the retirement of the CEC (the then Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti). Usually, the CEC leaves such decisions to his successor.”

The former Election Commissioner said that now the 20 AAP MLAs will engage 20 different lawyers and the matter will be delayed till the tenure of the Delhi assembly is over. The term of the current Delhi assembly ends in February 2020.

Joti retired on January 23. On January 19, just days before his retirement, he had recommended to the President to disqualify 20 AAP legislators for holding posts of parliamentary secretaries as it was ‘office of profit’. Joti was the Gujarat chief secretary before moving to the EC. During his tenure, the EC was also criticised for delaying the Gujarat polls.

The AAP said the decision to disqualify 20 of its legislators was a serious attempt to dislodge an elected government and demanded that the election commissioners either “resign” or “apologise” for their decision. “The elected representatives were wrongfully disqualified. The High Court has given justice to the people of Delhi. It is their victory. Congratulations to the people of Delhi,” AAP chief, Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.

The AAP legislators are accused of holding offices of profit, as they were appointed parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the Delhi government in March 2015. In September 2016, the Delhi High Court had ruled against their appointment.

The EC had on January 19 recommended the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs. The president had accepted the EC’s opinion the next day.

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