Shillong, July 19: Years after the constitution of the autonomous district councils in Meghalaya, the debate on whether those who are members of both the state legislature and district councils should be axed has resurfaced.
The larger question here is whether such members have violated the “office of profit” norm, which could even lead to their disqualification from both institutions.
Yesterday, president of the Civil Society Women’s Organisation Agnes Kharshiing raised a storm by petitioning governor K.K. Paul against certain legislators who are also members of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC).
In her petition, Kharshiing asked the governor to disqualify them as members of the Assembly and district councils as they had violated rule 17 (1)(a) of the Assam and Meghalaya Autonomous Districts (Constitution of District Councils) Rules, 1951, and also violated the provisions under Article 191 (1)(A) of the Constitution as amended till date.
Rule 17 (1)(a) states that a person shall be disqualified for being elected as and for being a member of the district council if, among others, he is a salaried “servant” of the government of India or the government of any state or is an employee of any district council or regional council.
Article 191(1)(A), in its amended form, stipulates that a person shall be disqualified for being chosen as and being a member of the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council of a state if, among others, he holds any such office of profit under the government of India or the government of any state as is declared by Parliament by law to disqualify its holder.
A KHADC member said the issue had been raised on earlier occasions too, but it would have been more pertinent if the issue surfaced before the elections.
“If it is a violation of the law, then why were we allowed to file our nomination papers during the elections?” a KHADC member asked. He said over the years, manypersonalities held both positions.
In her petition, Kharshiing pointed out that there are as many as eight representatives holding two posts, including deputy Speaker Sanbor Shullai, district council affairs minister H.D.R. Lyngdoh, KHADC’s chief executive member Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit and KHADC’s leader of Opposition Pynshngaińlang N. Syiem.
Except for one member, the remaining seven MLAs who were elected as members of autonomous district councils are in KHADC.
Stephanson Mukhim is the only member of district council in JHADC who was elected as MLA of Amlarem constituency and member of district council of War East constituency.
“Holding the post of an MDC along with that of an MLA leads to conflict of interest. These individuals are drawing salaries and other allowances which is unconstitutional,” Kharshiing had stated.
A senior advocate, on condition of anonymity, said there would be more clarity on the issue if it could be brought before the court of law.
“If you are a member of the Legislative Assembly, you cannot hold an office of profit. But the district councils were created under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and are autonomous bodies implying that they are neither under the state nor under the Centre. As it appears, an interpretation by the court will decide the matter,” the senior advocate said.
In 2006, the Hynniewtrep People Social Organisation (HPSO), an NGO, had approached the Election Commission to disqualify some of the legislators’ membership for holding “dual” office.
The HPSO had stated that many elected members of the Assembly were also elected as members of the autonomous district councils. Such members holding simultaneous office in both the Assembly and the councils draw salaries and enjoy remuneration, perks from both the institutions, the group had said.