New Delhi: The Election Commission will from Thursday begin personal hearing of 21 AAP MLAs, who have been made parliamentary secretaries and are facing the risk of disqualification from the Assembly in the Office of Profit case.
The Delhi High Court had on Wednesday deferred the hearing of a PIL challenging the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government's decision to appoint 21 legislators as parliamentary secretaries.
The 21 AAP MLAs had sought a personal hearing before the poll body in their reply to a notice by the Election Commission in June. The petition for their disqualification was made over their appointment as parliamentary secretaries by lawyer Prashant Patel.
At the first hearing, the Commission may also decide on whether to hear all the MLAs together or individually.
Maintaining that there was no "pecuniary benefit" associated with the post, the MLAs, in their response to the Commission, also said that that parliamentary secretary is a "post" without any remuneration or power.
After coming to power in February 2015, the AAP government appointed the parliamentary secretaries to assist the Delhi government ministers, saying this would facilitate smooth functioning but made it clear that they would not receive any remuneration or perk from the government, that is, no burden on the exchequer.
The order, however, permitted them to use government transport for official purposes and earmarked space in the ministers' offices to help them in the official work.
Thereafter, the government sought an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997.
Through the Bill, which has been forwarded to the Centre by Lt Governor Najeeb Jung, AAP wanted "retrospective" exemption for the parliamentary secretaries from disqualification provisions.
President Pranab Mukherjee in June refused to sign a bill that allowed the 21 AAP MLAs to hold a second paying position as parliamentary secretary, leaving their fate hanging in balance.
Questions have been raised over their appointment by the opposition.
The EC, which is examining the issue, has taken "cognisance" of the President's decision against signing a Delhi government's bill to exclude the post of Parliamentary Secretary from the ambit office of profit.
The Lt Governor has said that the office of parliamentary secretary is defined as an "office of profit if one looks at the statutes of Delhi" and that as per the GNCT Act, the city can have only one parliamentary secretary attached to the office of the Chief Minister.
The 21 MLAs include Alka Lamba, Jarnail Singh, Adarsh Shastri and Rajesh Gupta.
(With Agency inputs)