The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government is likely to approach the Supreme Court (SC) today with an affidavit requesting it to allow polling on all seats in local bodies scheduled for December 21 or to postpone it completely, two days after the apex court stayed elections to seats reserved for candidates from Other Backward Class (OBC) communities.
The decision was taken during the state cabinet’s weekly meeting held on Wednesday. Food and civil supplies minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who is also a senior OBC leader has been entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the legal battle in the top court.
“The [affidavit] will be submitted on Thursday. We are requesting the court to either allow us hold the election under quota with the condition of submitting the certificates after a few months or postpone all the polls. When other states are allowed to hold elections under a similar Ordinance, why has an exception been made only for Maharashtra? We expect the respite during next hearing on Monday. We will compile the empirical data in due course,” OBC welfare department minister Vijay Wadettiwar said.
“The affidavit will be filed on Thursday. We are quoting a court order which says the elections cannot be held in a piecemeal manner. It leads to the unrest among communities. We are also requesting the top court to ask the Centre to give us Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) data to ascertain quota. We expect a decision on it next week. We have consulted senior counsels like Mukul Rohatagi and Kapil Sibal. We are doing our level best to restore the quota,” Bhujbal said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Ashish Shelar on Wednesday asked the State Election Commission (SEC) to not go ahead with polls in local bodies scheduled later this month, saying conducting them will amount to doing injustice to OBCs.
“The election (in local bodies) is not going to be conducted on some seats because the OBC data is not available. Holding elections on remaining seats by excluding some would be an injustice to the OBC community. Hence we requested the commissioner to put the elections on hold till this issue is resolved,” he said.
The SEC on Tuesday stayed the polls to be conducted from OBC constituencies following the SC order. The development could snowball into a major political controversy as the upcoming local body elections are being seen as a test for the MVA government.
A number of local body elections will take place on December 21, including in 104 district council seats and 210 panchayat samiti seats in Bhandara and Gondia, 1,802 seats in 106 nagar panchayats, and four seats in different municipal corporations across the state. Bypolls in 7000 seats in 4,500 gram panchayats across the state are also slated for that day. In all, at least 413 local body seats reserved for OBC candidates will be affected on that day’s polling. The state will also see local body polls between February and December 2022, including in 23 municipal corporations, 27 district councils, 298 panchayat samitis, 320 nagar panchayats and nagar councils.
On March 4, the apex court struck down a legal provision that permitted 27% reservation in local body polls to OBC candidates on grounds that it breached the 50% ceiling on reservations when taken together with Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) quotas. It also directed the state to collect empirical evidence to fix the extent of OBC reservation.
On Monday, the SC struck down the Ordinance passed by the state in September to ensure that the 50% cap isn’t breached. The apex court said on December 6 that the state should have conducted the survey first before passing the Ordinance.
On Tuesday, HT reported that the state is going to amend the terms of reference (TOR) of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) formed on June 29 with the mandate to conduct household surveys to collect data on OBC communities.
MSBCC officials said the state was yet to take a decision on the state-wide census proposed by them, and has instead proposed a change in the original TOR, seeking to limit the exercise to a sample survey.
Experts said that this could end up being a “quick-fix solution” instead of the “rigorous empirical data” of the socio-economic backwardness of the OBC communities sought by the apex court.
“In its order on Monday, the SC stayed the Ordinance for the state government’s failure to comply with the triple test asked by the court while giving ruling in K Krishnamurthy case on March 4. The state has constituted the MSBCC but failed to kick start the work of collection of the data. It has not even been able to finalise its terms of reference (ToR) or allocate adequate funding. The court is also against postponement of the elections for the want of empirical data. Moving court with the request for respite is just a political move,” an official from OBC welfare department said.
The officer said that the political reservations given to OBCs since 1994 was disproportionate in many local bodies are the quota was more than their actual population. He said that the SC has ordered the survey to avoid depriving eligible backward class citizens from reservation.
The state is expected to engage senior counsels to represent it during the next hearing on December 13.
“I do not think political reservation will be restored without empirical data. The SC has made it very clear and to my opinion the sample survey to collect such data or for that matter even caste based survey should be done. Various commissions including Mandal commission had recommended collection of such data. It helps in weeding out the caste-based inequality in the society and also throws light on the current status of the population. It is possible that a section of established politicians from reserved categories may oppose such attempt as there is fear that the progressive sections of the reserved category would lose the reservation if fresh surveys are conducted,” Balkrishna Renke, former chairman of the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi Nomadic Tribes, said.
“The only option before the state government is to submit fair empirical data based on the ground realities and seek the restoration of the quashed reservation for the OBCs. Holding the elections is the responsibility of the state, but court will not allow it if the fundamental principal of the reservation is breached,” legal expert Aseem Sarode said.
“The law or even the Ordinance should be in conformity with the Constitution. The Ordinance does not fulfil this fundamental obligation and thus the court is unlikely to be reconsider its order,” constitutional expert Ulhas Bapat said.
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