20 AAP Lawmakers Reinstated, Court Takes On Election Commission

Office of Profit case: The 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs were disqualified because the Election Commission said they illegally held government posts.

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Office of Profit case: Disqualification of 20 MLAs of Arvind Kejriwal's AAP would mean by-polls in Delhi

New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. MLAs disqualified in Jan by Election Commission in office of profit case
  2. Truth has won, tweets Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal
  3. Court asks poll body to hold fresh hearing of the plea by AAP lawmakers
In a major victory for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and a huge strike at the Election Commission, 20 lawmakers in Delhi from his Aam Aadmi Party were reinstated by the Delhi High Court today. The lawmakers had been declared disqualified in January by the Election Commission after they were accused of holding offices of profit - which means they broke basic rules by holding positions with the Delhi government that allowed them perks. The recommendation was accepted by President Ram Nath Kovind.

"Truth has won. Elected representatives of Delhi were illegally disqualified. High court has given justice to the people of Delhi," tweeted Mr Kejriwal, who earlier described the disqualification as masterminded by the central government, with whom he has deep and long-running hostility. . 
 

Today's order in favour of AAP creates history - this is the first time in two decades that an Election Commission decision to disqualify a legislator has been struck down. The order comes as the Election Commission's autonomy and fairness has been questioned over a series of decisions, including its move last year to let Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh vote separately; for years, the states had voted together and opposition parties alleged that the de-linking was done to allow the ruling BJP more time to announce policies and schemes that would influence voters in its favour.

In the case of AAP, the Election Commission, the court said today, violated basic procedure by not hearing the arguments of each lawmaker.  "The opinion of the Election Commission is vitiated and bad in law for failure to comply with the principles of natural justice," the court said, questioning what the expression, "office of profit held under the government" means.

The court asked the Election Commission to conduct a fresh hearing of the plea by AAP lawmakers, and said each case has to be decided on merit. 

AAP lawmakers had contended that their attempts to explain their side of the story were stomped out by the Commission. After the court order today, Chief Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat refused to comment on the setback, saying, "We usually don't comment on court verdicts."

Comments
The 20 lawmakers were disqualified because the Election Commission said they illegally held government posts. According to the rules, elected representatives are not allowed to hold government posts as they draw a salary from the government. Additional jobs are considered "profit". AAP says the jobs - as parliamentary secretaries - carried no remuneration, which was why no law had been broken.

"It is a big victory for the people of Delhi. We have done ground work and were confident but the BJP tactics to quash us have failed today," said AAP's Alka Lamba, who entered the assembly building with party colleague Nitin Tyagi minutes after the High Court reinstated them as lawmakers, and joined in the budget session proceedings.

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