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Delhi HC lists AAP's plea for space for party offices on May 20

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New Delhi, May 15 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Wednesday listed for hearing on May 20 petitions by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seeking allocation of space for its offices by the Centre on account of being recognised as a national party.

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Observing that a suggestion to allot a unit on Deen Dayal Updhayay (DDU) Marg, which is with one of the ministers in the AAP government, was not accepted by the authorities, Justice Subramonium Prasad said the matter has to be heard and decided in view of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections and the assembly polls next year.

The AAP, which has to vacate its current party office in Rouse Avenue by June 15, had moved the court last year, seeking allotment a housing unit on licence basis or a piece of land in the national capital for the construction of its offices in view of its status as a recognised national party.

The court had on Tuesday asked the central government counsel to seek instructions after the petitioner's senior lawyer said one of the ministers was willing to forgo an accommodation in his possession on DDU Marg if the same was temporarily allotted to the AAP until land is given to the party for the construction of its offices.

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The central government counsel on Wednesday told the court that an offer of permanent allotment of land in Saket area was made to the petitioner last year. He also said the plot in question on DDU Marg has to be returned to the government first as it was initially earmarked for the expansion of court infrastructure.

Justice Prasad observed that as of now, this plot is not earmarked for any purpose and the offer for Saket plot was objected to by the petitioner on the ground that it was not at par with the allotment in favour of other national parties.

The court questioned if there was any waiting list of national political parties in relation to the allotment of space from the relevant pool and emphasised that the government is expected to follow Article 14 (Equality before law).

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The court also asked if there is any criterion for such allotment.

"Elections are on this year. They will be next year also. An arrangement was suggested. It is not accepted. The matter has to be heard and decided. Monday, 10.30 am," the court said.

"The question is that in this election period, at least till January in Delhi, a national political party is coming to this court, saying the plot is in possession of a minister... please permit us (to carry on party activities there)," added the court.

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The senior lawyers appearing for the petitioner have earlier said an alternative housing must be allotted to the AAP as its current office has to be vacated by June 15 and the construction of a new building on any allotted land cannot be completed in the meantime.

In March, the Supreme Court granted the AAP time till June 15 to vacate its Rouse Avenue office after noting that the land was allotted to the Delhi High Court for expanding judicial infrastructure.

In its petition, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party has said since land has been allotted by the authorities for the construction of office premises to all other national parties in central locations in New Delhi, it is incumbent upon them to ensure that a similar allotment is also made in favour of the petitioner in accordance with its entitlement.

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The plea has sought quashing of last year's June 26 and September 15 letters of the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs by which the AAP's request to allot land to the party for the construction of its national and state unit offices here was rejected.

The request was rejected on the ground that no vacant land was available at DDU Marg or other centrally-located area of Delhi for allotment.

The AAP has claimed that it is entitled to a total area of 1,000 square metres for the construction of offices for its national and state units in view of the policies issued by the Union ministry.

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It has said in spite of the clear entitlement and the passage of almost six months since its recognition as a national party, it has been denied land, which is not only "arbitrary, but also discriminatory".

"Such refusal is all the more egregious as the petitioner is a party in opposition and hence, it is incumbent on the respondents to enable the full exercise of democratic freedoms by those in opposition, instead of misusing their power to curtail such rights.

"The refusal to allot land has placed the party at great disadvantage in comparison to other national parties and thus, violates the very ethos of a democratic parliamentary system, preventing the party from functioning properly in the absence of proper office premises," the petition says.

It has, therefore, sought a direction to the Union ministry to take necessary steps in accordance with law to allot a suitable land to it in New Delhi to enable the party to construct offices for its national and Delhi state units at the earliest.

It has also sought a direction to the authorities concerned to ensure that the land so allotted is preferably in a centrally-located area of Delhi and free from encumbrances and encroachments, so that the construction of its offices may be commenced immediately. PTI ADS ADS KSS KSS

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