The Delhi High Court has directed the Election Commission to not issue any notification on bypolls to the Delhi Assembly till 29 January, which is when it will hear a plea on the matter of disqualification of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs over the "office of profit" row.
The court, however, refused to stay the Centre’s notification disqualifying the 20 AAP MLAs even as it restrained the poll panel from taking any "precipitate step” — like announcing bypoll dates on seats held by the 20 disqualified AAP MLAs. Justice Vibhu Bakhru sought a response from the poll panel and the Centre on AAP MLAs' pleas challenging their disqualification.
The high court summoned the entire records pertaining to the proceedings leading to the recommendation of the EC for 20 MLAs’ disqualification which received the President’s assent on January 20.
The court said the matter required consideration, and hence it would hear it on a day-to-day basis from January 29 onwards.
Eight of the 20 MLAs from Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP had filed three petitions requesting that an EC recommendation to the President to disqualify them and the notification issued after President Ram Nath Kovind signed off on it be cancelled.
The MLAs have alleged that the EC recommended their disqualification without giving them a fair chance to defend themselves and asked the court to order the poll body to hear their side.
They also sought that the disqualification be reversed till the EC hears the matter again.
Five of the former AAP legislators argued in their plea that the EC had acted in "undue haste", and without "affording" and "giving any opportunity of a fair hearing" to the petitioners.
The MLAs further argued that the EC "failed to follow due process of law by not offering the petitioners a full hearing before making the final opinion to the President". As well, the EC did not consider that "parliamentary secretary" was a "mere post" and not an 'office'.
AAP insists that its legislators drew no salary or perks as parliamentary secretaries, appointed to assist ministers with their work, and so there is no question of their having held offices of profit.
The court's intervention means that the speaker of the Delhi Assembly does not have to act on the Presidential order disqualifying the AAP MLAs just yet. The EC can move the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court's order.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had in 2015 appointed 20 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries, an appointment which was later set aside by the Delhi High Court. With the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs, the strength of the party has slipped to 46 from 66 MLAs. It, however, remains in a comfortable majority.
The 20 MLAs disqualified are Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri, Sanjeev Jha, Rajesh Gupta, Kailash Gahlot, Vijendra Garg, Praveen Kumar, Sharad Kumar, Madan Lal Khufiya, Shiv Charan Goyal, Sarita Singh, Naresh Yadav, Rajesh Rishi, Anil Kumar, Som Dutt, Avtar Singh, Sukhvir Singh Dala, Manoj Kumar, Nitin Tyagi and Jarnail Singh.