EC sees ‘no ground for disqualification’ of 12 Manipur BJP MLAs in office of profit case

New Delhi, Mar 2
The Election Commission (EC) has opined in favour of 12 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs from Manipur, who were facing disqualification in a 2018 ‘office of profit’ case for holding the position of parliamentary secretaries, ThePrint has learnt.
While the law relevant to office of profit bars MPs and MLAs from holding a position under the Government, the BJP MLAs did not seem to commit any violation as they had held the posts of Parliamentary Secretaries in the State under an exemption granted by two laws passed over the last decade.
These were the Manipur Parliamentary Secretary (Appointment, Salary and Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2012, and the Manipur Parliamentary (Appointment, Salary and Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Repealing Act, 2018.
Both Acts ceased to exist after the Manipur High Court pronounced them invalid and unconstitutional in a judgment on 17 September 2020.
After the HC declared these Acts void ab initio, the Manipur Congress had approached Governor Najma Heptulla seeking disqualification of the 12 BJP MLAs on account of holding the position of Parliamentary Secretaries, which qualified as ‘office of profit’ after the HC ruling.
The Governor had sought the EC’s views on the matter in October last year.
In a letter to Heptulla in January this year, the EC is learnt to have opined that since the Acts mentioned above were in force at the time they held the office, the MLAs could not be disqualified for holding office of profit retrospectively.
“As per the Acts which were in force at the time, it was very clear that the positions of Parliamentary Secretaries can be held by MLAs,” an EC official said, who did not wish to be named. “And moreover, these MLAs ceased to hold the office in 2018 itself, so ECI’s view is that there is no case for disqualification.”
What the EC based its opinion on
The EC is learnt to have based its view on Article 191(1) of the Constitution.
The Article says a person can be disqualified as MLA “if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State specified in the First Schedule, other than an office declared by the Legislature of the State by law not to disqualify its holder”.
In Manipur’s case, the legislation did exist for exemption, the official quoted above added.
In December last year, a delegation of Congress leaders had also appealed to the EC to decide the matter of disqualification of 12 Manipur legislators in the office of profit case.
Arguing that the case of the Manipur MLAs called for disqualification, Congress leaders had made a reference to the Supreme Court order dated 26 July 2017 in the case of Bimalangshu Roy vs the State of Assam, according to which appointing elected representatives of the land as Parliamentary Secretaries violates the law.
The EC, in 2018, had recommended the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs, who were also holding the position of Parliamentary Secretaries, on account of office of profit.
However, the Manipur BJP MLAs case is different since there was a protection granted to them in law earlier, which was subsequently declared unconstitutional.  The Print