In one of the last key orders he issued before demitting office, Joti had recommended disqualification of the 20 MLAs to the President on 19 January.
New Delhi: Even as the Delhi High Court Friday set aside the Election Commission’s order disqualifying 20 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs saying it was bad in law, A.K. Joti, who was the chief election commissioner when the decision was taken told ThePrint that adequate time was given to the legislators to respond.
Joti said that in his view due process was followed and AAP MLAs failed to respond to repeated EC notices.
In one of the last key orders he issued before demitting office, Joti had recommended disqualification of the 20 MLAs to the President on 19 January 2018 on grounds of holding office of profit.
Rashtrapati Bhavan promptly accepted the recommendation which was duly notified by the government, sparking a controversy over the process being deliberately rushed through by all institutions.
The Delhi HC Friday restored the memberships of the 20 MLAs, referred the case back to the Election Commission for a fresh hearing and is learnt to have termed it a violation of natural justice as no oral hearings were given to the MLAs.
While refraining from commenting on the specifics of the high court order, Joti said that the MLAs failed to respond to EC notices.
‘MLAs did not respond to notices’
“The MLAs concerned had gone to Delhi High Court in June 2017 to seek a stay on EC proceedings in the office of profit case. However, the court did not grant that stay and that is how and why EC proceedings were bound to be conducted against them thereafter,” Joti said.
“The AAP could have got a further stay order on EC proceedings but they did not do so. The EC accordingly issued them a notice in September 2017. They did not respond to that,” he pointed out
“A fresh notice was issued to them in November 2017 as well but again they did not respond to it with any written representation. So three interim orders were passed and nearly two years given to the AAP MLAs — the case was referred to us by Rashtrapati Bhavan in December 2015,” Joti added.
“They were given considerable time to respond but never did,” the former CEC said.
While some have said that had the EC granted personal hearings to each MLA, doubts and questions would never have risen about the EC order, the former CEC pointed out that this avenue could possibly have been made available to the legislators if they had responded to EC communication.
“We even sent to each of these MLAs, very detailed documents given to us by the Delhi government on the work done by them as parliamentary secretaries. We sought their remarks on the same and nothing came from them in writing,” Joti said.
“Even if they were seeking personal hearings, they should have sent their remarks in writing. After all, EC has to examine everything on record and carry out proceedings,” he said.
‘Continuity of the case maintained’
When asked about the allegations of him ‘hurriedly’ recommending the disqualification to the President on his last day in office, the former CEC said that he was the only one among the three election commissioners to have heard the case from the beginning and hence the need to close it in the context of continuity of a case.
“I was the only person who heard it continuously since it was first referred to us in 2015. The former CEC Dr Zaidi completed his term in June 2017, then Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat had recused himself from AAP hearings in March 2017 and then a new Election Commissioner Sunil Arora joined us only in August 2017,” Joti said.
“In that context and in the interest of continuity of the case, it was felt that we should now complete the matter pending before us for two years. There was no hurry and in fact, we always intended to and did give the AAP MLAs time to respond to our notices,” he added.
The Election Commission, meanwhile, declined to comment on the matter Friday.