In a major jolt to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Election Commission of India has ruled that it will continue hearing a plea against the party's 20 Delhi MLAs for allegedly holding office of profit, despite the Delhi High Court setting aside their appointment as parliamentary secretaries.
The office of profit petition was filed against 21 AAP MLA. Later, proceedings were dropped against Jarnail Singh after he resigned as the Rajouri Garden MLA to contest Assembly polls in Punjab.
The EC order stated that the commission was of the "considered opinion" that the AAP MLAs did hold "de facto the office of parliamentary secretaries from March 13, 2015 to September 8, 2016".
The order comes days before Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi demits office in July.
Election Commissioner O P Rawat, who recused himself from the case after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had questioned his impartiality, has not signed on the order.
The AAP government in Delhi had appointed 21 parliamentary secretaries to assist its ministers. The petition, filed by lawyer Prashant Patel, had challenged appointment of 21 AAP MLAs as parliamentary secretaries and has sought their disqualification, claiming that the post of parliamentary secretary comes under the 'Office of Profit'.
The city government later sought to amend the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, so as to exempt parliamentary secretaries from disqualification provisions in 'Office of Profit' cases. However, the President refused to give his assent to the Bill.
On September 8, the high court had set aside the appointment of the 21 AAP MLAs as parliamentary secretaries.
The court had said the order to appoint them as parliamentary secretaries was given without the concurrence of the Lieutenant Governor.
A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal had set aside the March 13, 2015 government order after the counsel appearing for the Delhi government "conceded" that it was issued without taking concurrence or views of the LG.
Prashant Patel, maintained that the high court order should have no bearing on the case being heard by the EC as the MLAs were enjoying the fruits of that office till their appointment was set aside by the high court.
The poll panel had heard the case on December 16 last before it got busy with Assembly elections in five states.
On March 27, the commission had reserved its order on the issue.
The 21 MLAs include Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri and Rajesh Gupta.