Maharashtra challenges Supreme Court order on OBC quota in local polls

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Maharashtra challenges Supreme Court order on OBC quota in local polls
© Provided by Hindustan Times Maharashtra is not the only state where OBC quota in local bodies has been stayed by the top court. (Representational/HT file)

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear on January 19 a plea by the Maharashtra government seeking a recall of its December 15 order that stayed 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in local body elections.

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A three-judge bench headed by justice AM Khanwilkar agreed to hear the matter and directed the state government to supply to the state election commission (SEC) a copy of the application, which claimed that its order to notify the reserved seats under the general category was against the constitutional scheme.

In its application filed electronically through advocate Sachin Patil, the state government pointed out that elections to 34 out of 37 zilla parishads, 313 out of 351 panchayat samitis and 9,000 village panchayats are due up to March this year. “The OBC candidates will not get representation in the local bodies in the state for the next five years,” it said. The state also suggested the appointment of administrators till the elections to these seats are held.

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On December 15, the Supreme Court had directed the state poll panel to notify 27 per cent seats in the local bodies, which were earlier reserved for OBCs, as general category seats.

Prior to this, on December 6, the apex court had stayed the local body polls in Maharashtra on the seats reserved for the OBCs till further orders and made it clear that the poll process for the other seats would continue.

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The court also found that the state had not fulfilled the mandatory criteria of the “triple tests” laid down by it before providing such reservation. The “triple tests” guidelines formed by the top court in 2010 seeks the appointment of an independent commission, collection of empirical data on the nature and extent of backwardness of OBCs and application of the data to seats in a manner such that reservation does not exceed 50%, as per the ceiling imposed by the top court in its 1992 landmark Indra Sawhney decision, in such matters.

In its plea, the Maharashtra government claimed that the top court’s December order would result in two adverse effects.

“The persons belonging to OBC are deprived of an opportunity to be elected to the elected positions through democratic process and fulfill the aspirations of not only the residents of the OBC community but everyone else, which helps in the development of leadership quality in such communities,” the application said.

“Second, such inadequate representation or non-representation of OBCs is strictly contrary to the object, intent and purpose of the Constitutional scheme,” it added. The state also claimed that it had already complied with two of the three-fold test guidelines by appointing a commission and gathering data.

“The reservation in various districts of Maharashtra is based on the proportion of population of OBCs in the respective districts and is not a blanket reservation of 27% in all the districts in the entire state of Maharashtra,” it said, adding that the quota will not be applicable in the districts of Nandurbar, Palghar and Gadchiroli which have a substantial population of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.

“As per data available on the Saral portal, the population of OBC of citizens is tentatively available with the state… This data was available for some time but has been recently analyzed to reveal the population of the backward class of citizens,” the application for recall said.

As an intermediate measure to justify the 27% OBC quota in local bodies, the state referred to a sample survey, conducted by Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, which said that the distribution of OBCs in the sample size was found to be 48.6%.

Former state minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule, a senior OBC leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party, said the state should have filed its application earlier. “The recall application made on Monday could have been done earlier. The Maharashtra government is not serious over the issue of reservation to OBCs. The state BJP unit and even the Centre has been supporting the state government’s stand of availing empirical data within three months, but we expect it to be honest in its intention,” he said.

Maharashtra is not the only state where OBC reservation in local bodies has been stayed. On December 17, the top court passed a similar order for the Madhya Pradesh government, directing the OBC seats to be notified as general category for failing to comply with the three-test criteria.

The Centre has already approached the court, seeking a recall of the order.

Likewise, the Madhya Pradesh government has filed a similar application, claiming to have 51% OBC population in the state.

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