President rejects call to disqualify 27 AAP MLAs, party celebrates

New Delhi: In a major boost to the AAP, President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday dismissed a petition seeking disqualification of 27 party MLAs on charges of holding Office of Profit as Chairpersons of Rogi Kalyan Samitis (RKS) in Delhi government hospitals, prompting the ruling party in Delhi to claim victory.

After the petition filed by a Vibhor Anand in 2016 seeking their disqualification was dismissed on Thursday by the President as not maintainable, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hit out at the Election Commission, wondering whether it was truly independent or not.

In his order, the President said that “the question of alleged disqualification of Alka Lamba and 26 other Members of Delhi Legislative Assembly is not maintainable”.

The order came four months after the Election Commission ruled that the office of chairperson in RKS in hospitals fell under the exempted category of the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, and so the MLAs could not be disqualified.

The AAP, which has been at loggerheads with the Modi government over several issues, claimed victory but said it was clear that the party’s name was allowed to be sullied although the allegation at the first place was not based on facts.

“Most unfortunately, the Election Commission not only decided to entertain such a trash as a petition but also decided to initiate the proceedings on the basis of rubbish which in normal circumstances would have been consigned to the dustbin,” the AAP said in a statement.

Delhi Minister Gopal Rai accused the poll panel of wasting two long years over the petition without any solid evidence against the MLAs.

“Everyone knows that the MLAs involved in the RKS had nothing to do with Office of Profit… The Election Commission wasted two years because of some pressure from somewhere. At last, the truth is out,” he said.

The MLAs against whom the petition was filed were Alka Lamba, Shiv Charan Goel, Jagdeep Singh, Bandana Kumari, Ajesh Yadav, S.K. Bagga, Jitendra Singh Tomar, Rajesh Rishi, Rajesh Gupta, Ram Niwas Goel, Vishesh Ravi, Jarnail Singh, Naresh Yadav, Nitin Tyagi, Ved Prakash, Somnath Bharti, Pankaj Pushkar, Rajendra Pal Gautam, Kailash Gahlot, Hazarilal Chouhan, Sharad Kumar Chauhan, Madan Lal, Rakhi Birla, Mohammad Ishraque, Anil Kumar Bajpai, Surender Singh and Mohinder Goyal.

The AAP and the Delhi government had maintained that RKS were advisory in nature, meant to help hospitals develop strategies, and there was no profit to be made by holding the posts as its Chairperson.

The Chairperson of RKS was not entitled to any salary or emoluments or perks of any kind apart form the office space in the hospital concerned, the party said.

On Thursday, the AAP reacted with righteous anger.

Nagendra Sharma, the media advisor to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, said it was “extremely surprising that it took President nearly four months after he received the EC opinion to issue the order dismissing a fake complaint against 27 Delhi MLAs in RKS matter where he did not even take 24 hours to disqualify 20 MLAs in January.

“EC is (also) guilty of allowing the falsehood to be sustained in an open and shut case. Remember, EC even gave a notice to the Speaker in November 2016 who is not even a RKS member,” he tweeted.

The AAP statement said the “fake complaint” against its MLAs should have been dumped by previous President Pranab Mukherjee and not forwarded to the Election Commission.

“Unfortunately, this did not happen and a bogus complaint was allowed to be publicised to create a doubt in the minds of the people and this ‘tamasha’ was allowed to linger on for two years.”

The Election Commission is also hearing another plea to disqualify 20 AAP MLAs for allegedly holding Office of Profit as Parliamentary Secretaries.

In January, the poll panel had recommended the disqualification of the 20 and the President accepted the opinion the next day.

Now, the matter is being heard afresh by the Commission after the Delhi High Court had termed the poll panel decision as “bad in law”.