The high court listed the matter for further hearing on December 13
Representative image. Pic/Istock
The Delhi High Court on Monday sought response of the Lieutenant Governor and the Delhi government on a plea by state think-tank DDCD's vice chairman Jasmine Shah challenging an order restraining him from discharging his duties and sealing his office.
Justice Prathiba M Singh asked Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena, director (Planning) of the Delhi government, sub divisional magistrate (Civil Lines) and the chief minister who is the chairman of DDCD to file their counter affidavits responding to the petition.
"Without a counter affidavit, how will I deal with the allegations? You file your responses," the judge said.
The high court listed the matter for further hearing on December 13.
Shah has challenged the November 17 order issued by director (Planning), Delhi government on the L-G's request to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to remove him from the post of vice chairperson of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi (DDCD), and pending such a decision, to restrain him from using his office space and withdraw the staff and facilities assigned to him.
At the outset, Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, representing the L-G, submitted that on November 26, the deputy chief minister had made some notings on the file which is before the Lieutenant Governor now.
He said now the L-G has to give his own notings on the file and the court may take up the matter thereafter.
Delhi government standing counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi, representing the DDCD chairperson, said Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who is also the minister (Planning), has submitted that no approval was taken from him before the Director (Planning) issued the orders which is in complete violation of the rules of the Transaction of Business of GNCTD Rules.
The counsel said Sisodia, who is the minister-in-charge, has directed the planning department to "rescind the two illegal orders of November 17, 2022 with immediate effect and issue orders to de-seal the office of VC (DDCD)".
However, Jain said this order has not attained finality and larger issues are involved in the matter.
Tripathi also said that Sisodia has said in the order that the position of vice chairman (DDCD) is not a civil post nor does it come under any civil service, hence, CCS (Conduct) Rules do not apply to this position and there is no legal bar on VC (DDCD) from engaging in any "political activity".
"L-G has no powers or jurisdiction over the functioning of DDCD or to pass any interim orders curtailing the functioning of VC (DDCD)..." it said.
The high court said it cannot deal with the allegations without having the affidavits on record and asked the parties to file it before the next date of hearing.
"I cannot reinstate anybody without the affidavit on record," the judge said.
Senior advocate Rajiv Nayar, representing Shah, said the L-G recognises that he does not have the power to take action in this as he asked the chief minister to take action but in the meantime, he restrained Shah from discharging his duties. When he has no jurisdiction, how can he do this, the counsel said.
In his petition, Shah has submitted that the orders passed against him are a "gross abuse of power and process", "wholly without any merit, an instance of colourable exercise of authority, illegal, ex facie malafide and patently lacking in jurisdiction".
He has also assailed orders locking his office and withdrawing all facilities as well as privileges.
The DDCD offices were sealed on the night of November 17 for preventing its alleged "misuse by Shah for political gains". The sealing exercise was undertaken by the Planning Department of the Delhi government.
In his petition before the high court, Shah has said that in the absence of any directions from the Delhi cabinet and the chief minister -- the competent authorities -- the orders passed against him "suffer from a patent want of jurisdiction".
It is also said that there is no allegation of misuse of public funds or corruption in the complaint against him and the only grievance was that he expressed his political view on certain television debates.
"The sole object and purpose of the impugned orders is to victimise the petitioner for expressing his political views in television debates which were not to the liking of the complainant, Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma, Member of Parliament of the BJP from West Delhi, and respondent No.3 (LG) who acted on a complaint made by the former with alacrity, in a pre-meditated manner," the petition has said.
The plea has asserted that the vice chairperson of DDCD is appointed only to advise the government about public policy reform as an honorary member and cannot be regarded as a part of the permanent Executive/civil service/ bureaucracy of the State and the conditions of service do not prohibit him from associating with any political party or espousing political opinions.
"The petitioner's appearance on television debates is within the lawful exercise of his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression," the plea has said, while also clarifying that Shah is not a spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
"The impugned order dated November 17, 2022 also proceeds on the misconception that the petitioner is a spokesperson of the AAP. In fact, the petitioner has not been appointed as the spokesperson of the AAP," it has stated.
"The petitioner who has stellar academic credentials and extensive national experience in the area of public policy reform has not misused/abused the office of Vice Chairperson, DDCD in any manner whatsoever and the allegations levelled by the complainant and findings returned in the impugned order are entirely baseless and misconceived," the petition has asserted.
Shah was behind the Delhi government's ambitious electric vehicle policy and is the vice chairman of the think-tank involved in drawing blueprints of various initiatives of the city government, including its food truck policy, electronic city, and shopping festival, among others.
He enjoys the rank of a Cabinet minister and is entitled to perks and privileges of a Delhi government minister like official accommodation, office, vehicle and personal staff.
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