SC paves way for OBC reservation in Maharashtra local bodies poll
New Delhi, July 20, 2022
More than a year after it read down Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservation in local bodies, the Supreme Court on Wednesday paved the way for OBC reservation in Maharashtra local bodies elections, as it accepted the Banthia Commission report.
A bench headed by Justice A. M. Khanwilkar said: "We direct the State Election Commission and state authorities to ensure the election process in respect to each of those local bodies is immediately commenced and taken forward on the basis of order dated May 4, 2022."
The apex court also directed the Maharashtra SEC to notify the election programme for all local bodies within two weeks. Accepting reservations for OBCs, the top court said it wants election to be conducted and these cannot be deferred indefinitely.
The bench, also comprising Justices A. S. Oka and J. B. Pardiwala, said: "Let the election commence, let the local bodies be there. We want an election..."
The top court accepted the Banthia Commission report, which recommended that OBCs should be given 27 per cent reservation in local bodies, and directed the SEC to hold elections as per the report.
The Supreme Court, in its order in March last year, while reading down the OBC reservation in local bodies, asked the Maharashtra government to comply with three conditions - setting up a dedicated commission for collecting empirical data on the OBC population, specifying the proportion of reservation, and ensuring cumulative share of reserved seats doesn't breach 50 per cent of total seats.
After the top court's order, the Maharashtra government appointed a dedicated commission for empirical data of OBCs and promulgated an ordinance in September last year. A bill was passed for 27 per cent OBCs reservation in local bodies without exceeding the 50 per cent ceiling limit of the reservation.
On December 6, the Supreme Court stayed the Maharashtra government decision to grant 27 per cent reservation for the OBC, which was brought by an ordinance, in the local body elections until further orders. The top court said the decision to earmark the quota was done without following the mandatory triple-test laid down by it.
On December 15, the Supreme Court ordered the SEC and the state government to convert 27 per cent reserved seats for OBC into general category, for zila parishad & panchayat samitis, and issue a fresh notification.
In January this year, the Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court seeking recall of its order directing the State Election Commission (SEC) to renotify 27 per cent seats reserved for OBC in the local body polls, as general category seats.
In March this year, the Supreme Court directed the Maharashtra government and the SEC not to act upon the interim report of Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission to reserve seats for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the upcoming local bodies election.
The top court said the election should be conducted without the OBC reservation. It also pulled up the commission over its report, and declined to accept its argument that there is sufficient data to reserve the seats. "Where is the logic? There is not even a single logic given," it said.
The counsel representing the Maharashtra government submitted that the commission may be able to justify the recommendation to reserve the seats. The bench wondered did the commission rely on the same data, which looked contentious to the court earlier.
The top court said it cannot allow the Maharashtra government to move with such an interim report. It declined to accept the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission's recommendation to restore 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in the local body elections.
The top court noted that the report did not comply with an earlier Supreme Court direction, under which the commission was required to conduct research before proposing any suggestions. The bench emphasised that the report filed by commission must stand the test of judicial scrutiny, and there should be more authentic data.
The bench said there is no date on the report and how could it know whether it was prepared with full understanding or not? "If this is how a commission will work, then we doubt the recommendations of the commission."
The top court, in its May 4 order, said: "Accordingly, the election programme of such local bodies must proceed and the State Election Commission is obliged to notify the election programme within two weeks from today in respect of such local bodies including to continue with the process from the stage as on 10.3.2022, on the basis of the delimitation done prior to coming into force of the Amendment Act(s) w.e.f. 11.03.2022".
It added that the delimitation as it existed prior to March 11, 2022 in respect of concerned local bodies be taken as notional delimitation for the conduct of overdue elections and to conduct the same on that basis in respect of each of such local bodies.