Supreme Court stays 27% OBC reservation in Maharashtra local body elections
Local body polls in Maharashtra will be held without reservation for other backward classes (OBC), the Supreme Court ordered on Monday, while rebuking the state government for introducing 27% reservation for OBCs through an ordinance two months ago without collecting data.
The decision of the court would affect 567 seats out of a total of 2,100 for which elections were announced by the state election commission (SEC) on November 24. Tuesday is the last day for filing nominations.
“The election for the concerned local bodies in respect of reserved seats for backward classes shall remain stayed till further orders,” a bench of justices AM Khanwilkar and CT Ravikumar said. “SEC shall not notify reserved seats for OBCs for any election, either mid-term or any other general election, until further orders.”
The order came on separate petitions by Kisanrao Kundalikrao Gawali, a former legislator in the state assembly, and Rahul Ramesh Wagh, a social worker.
The requirement of collecting empirical data as a precondition for providing OBC reservation in Maharashtra’s local body elections was laid down by the Supreme Court on March 4. This judgment directed the state government to set up a dedicated commission to examine backwardness and extent of OBC population in each municipal council.
On June 29, a commission was constituted for this purpose, but since this exercise would take time, the state issued an ordinance by amending provisions in two legislations – Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act and the Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961.
Taking exception to the haste shown by the state to introduce the ordinance, the bench remarked, “Your political compulsions cannot be the basis to undo our judgment….You should have waited for the data to be compiled by the commission.”
The collection of data is an exhaustive exercise and, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was expected to take a long time, said lawyer Shekhar Naphade, appearing for the state.
The state had filed a petition in the Supreme Court demanding census data on OBCs, he informed the court. This petition is still pending consideration and is expected to be heard on December 13. The court ordered the present petitions to be heard along with that matter next Monday.
The state argued against a stay, saying it would mean that OBCs will be unrepresented. The bench, however, said, “You have created this problem. Our judgment was very clear, asking you to get data and provide reservation for municipal council wise. You have overturned our judgment with this process.”
Reservation for OBCs can be justified only by collecting data, lawyer Vikas Singh argued on behalf of the petitioners. “What this court set aside has been reintroduced by the ordinance, except with a rider of 50% on total reservation,” Singh said. He said that if this ordinance was stayed, the 567 seats will be filled up by general category candidates.
The two petitions filed through advocate Chandra Prakash and Hrikesh Chitley said, “The foremost requirement (for providing OBC reservation) is to collate adequate materials or documents that could help in identification of OBCs for the purpose of reservation by conducting a contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of backwardness in the local bodies concerned through an independent dedicated Commission.”
The petitioners had earlier approached the Bombay high court challenging the ordinance. On November 18, the high court issued notice on their petitions, but did not grant any stay. Later, when the SEC notification announcing the election process was put out, the petitioners approached the apex court, seeking urgent stay of the ordinance and its effect in the present local body polls.
The court also pulled up the SEC for announcing the election schedule. “When the matter was before the court, you (SEC) could have taken permission,” it said.
By two notifications of November 24 and November 26, the schedule for elections to 15 panchayat samitis in the districts of Bhandara and Gondia and 105 nagar panchayats throughout the state was declared.