20 lawmakers sacked in India for allegedly taking illegal benefits

NEW DELHI: India’s president sacked 20 lawmakers from the state assembly in New Delhi after they were revealed to be holding jobs in government despite laws forbidding the practice.

The purge reduces by nearly a third the number of state assembly seats held by Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which still maintains a majority. It attacked the sackings as “unconstitutional”.

The Election Commission had recommended that the legislators be disqualified for drawing salaries for government jobs outside their elected duties.

Politicians are barred in most states from accepting paid work in public office while earning a living as sitting members. Those appointed as ministers are exempt from the rules.

The practise of “holding offices of profit” has been legalised in some Indian states but not in the capital Delhi.

President Ramnath Kovind — who was nominated last year by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party for the post — upheld the commission’s recommendation and dismissed the lawmakers.

The AAP — who won 67 of Delhi’s 70 seats in 2015, against just three for the BJP — described the move as politically motivated.

The president’s order was “unconstitutional and dangerous for democracy”, tweeted AAP senior official Ashutosh, who goes by one name.

The AAP says the 20 legislators were acting as parliamentary secretaries assisting Delhi government ministers in running their offices, but were not receiving any salary for the work.

The party — whose name translates as Common Man’s Party — roared to power in Delhi on the back of its activist-turned-politician leader Arvind Kejriwal, who railed against corruption in politics.

His opponents have called for his resignation in the wake of the mass disqualification of legislators. The party has suggested it could take legal action to retain its seats.

The AAP has been rocked by controversy and infighting since sailing to victory in the Delhi polls.

Three of Kejriwal’s ministers have been fired. His law minister was sacked after it was revealed he paid for his degree, and another of his ministers was dismissed after being arrested for an alleged sex tape.