President Ram Nath Kovind has rejected a petition seeking the disqualification of 11 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs on charges that they were occupying offices of profit by serving as chairpersons in district disaster management agencies.
President Kovind took the decision on October 28 after the Election Commission clarified that such positions do not figure in the "office of profit" category.
The petitioner, Vivek Garg, had approached the President in March 2017 to demand the disqualification of 11 AAP lawmakers - including Delhi Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot and Burari MLA Sanjeev Jha - on the grounds that they were co-chairpersons of disaster management agencies across 11 districts. However, upon being consulted by the President, the Election Commission clarified in August that such positions cannot be termed as "offices of profit" because they provide no remuneration by way of salary or allowances.
The Election Commission also pointed out that no related perks such as staff cars, office space, support staff, telephones or living quarters were provided to the MLAs either.
"Item 14 of the Schedule to Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification Act), 1997 provides for exemption for the office of Chairman, Director or Member of a statutory or non-statutory body or committee etc. constituted by Government of NCT, provided that the said Chairman, Director or Member is not entitled to any remuneration," the Election Commission said in its opinion to the President.
Besides Sanjeev Jha and Kailash Gahlot, the MLAs named the petition were Nitin Tyagi, Praveen Kumar, Pawan Kumar Sharma, Shri Dutt Sharma, Rajesh Gupta, Sarita Singh, Dinesh Mohania, Amanatullah Khan and Jarnail Singh.
The Delhi High Court had set aside an Election Commission ruling disqualifying 20 AAP MLAs for allegedly holding offices of profit as parliamentary secretaries in a separate case last year, calling it "bad in law" and sending it back for a fresh hearing. The court said that natural justice had been violated because the lawmakers were not allowed an oral hearing before being disqualified.
The term of the 70-member Delhi Assembly will end on February 22, 2020. The election schedule is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
(With inputs from PTI)