Allowing AAP MLAs to summon witnesses could prolong the office of profit matter, says HC

New Delhi:The Delhi High Court on Thursday said allowing 20 AAP MLAs, facing allegations of having held office-of-profit, to summon witnesses in the disqualification proceedings before the poll panel could lead to prolonging the matter beyond their tenure, expiring in 2020.

Justice Sunil Gaur said the idea was not to “stop” or “curtail” the rights of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs, whose appointment as Parliamentary Secretaries led to the allegation against them, “but to ensure it (the proceedings) does not get prolonged”.

“If allowed (to summon witnesses), it (proceedings) will cross 2020,” the court said, adding that the answers the MLAs wish to “elicit” from the witnesses can be obtained through an application made under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The MLAs are seeking summoning of witnesses before the Election Commission (EC) to show that they have not received any “actual” benefit from their appointment as Parliamentary Secretaries.

“This information you can receive under RTI. There is no need to summon witnesses. Move an application under RTI to ascertain whether actual benefit was derived,” the court said.

Senior advocate KV Vishwanathan, appearing for the MLAs, said the summoning and examining of witnesses can be made time bound to ensure the matter does not get prolonged.

The lawyer also said that witnesses were required to be summoned as the EC, while perusing the material and documents before it, has observed that there was potential for benefit.

To this, the court said it was “factually incorrect” on the part of the EC to make such observations at the present stage of the proceedings.

“These observations of the commission were not called for. They can be deleted. They were not required to comment upon the documents at this stage. That would happen in the final order,” it said and reserved its decision in the matter.

The court was hearing a petition by Delhi Law Minister and AAP MLA Kailash Gahlot and others challenging the EC’s September 25 decision rejecting the legislator’s plea to summon government officials as witnesses in the office-of-profit matter pending before the poll panel.

The court, while listing the AAP MLAs plea for orders on November 16, also discharged the complainant Prashant Patel from the instant proceedings before it.

It said that Patel, represented by advocate Kaushal Sharma, was not required in the present proceedings as it pertained to summoning of witnesses.

The poll panel had earlier recommended disqualification of the 20 AAP MLAs based on Patel’s complaint.

The EC, represented by senior advocate Arvind Nigam, contended that whether the benefit was actual or potential, both are grounds for disqualification and added that it has all the material pertaining to appointment of the MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries.

EC had on January 19 this year recommended the disqualification of the 20 AAP MLAs, accused of holding offices-of-profit as they were appointed parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the Delhi government in March 2015. This was done soon after they were elected to the Delhi Assembly.

On March 23, the high court had set aside the disqualification of the 20 AAP MLAs by the poll panel for holding ‘office-of-profit’ and had termed the recommendation as “vitiated” and “bad in law”. It had directed the EC to hear the issue afresh.

In September 2016, the high court had ruled against their appointment as parliamentary secretaries.

Apart from Gahlot, the other MLAs including Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri, Sanjeev Jha, Rajesh Gupta, Vijendra Garg, Praveen Kumar, Sharad Kumar, Madan Lal, Shiv Charan Goyal, Sarita Singh, Naresh Yadav, Rajesh Rishi, were earlier disqualified by EC.

Apart from them, AAP legislators Anil Kumar, Som Dutt, Avtar Singh, Sukhvir Singh Dala, Manoj Kumar, Nitin Tyagi and Jarnail Singh were also disqualified by the poll panel.

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