The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Maharashtra State Election Commission to notify the programme for local bodies elections within two weeks. While elections have been long-delayed due to a major delimitation exercise, a three-judge bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Abhay S Oka, and C T Ravikumar said 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.
“We observe and hold that the process of delimitation being a continuous exercise may be continued by the State of Maharashtra, subject to the outcome of these petitions, but that would be relevant only for future elections after such exercise is completed.”
“For that, the elections of local bodies (around 2486) which had become due on expiry of five years term and required to be conducted before expiry of such term in terms of Article 243-E and 243-U of the Constitution, including Sections 6 and 6(B) read with Section 452A(2) of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act and related provisions in other enactments governing elections of local bodies, the conduct of elections of such local bodies cannot brook any delay,” the bench said.
Although delimitation has been put forth as the reason for delay, it is widely understood that the process is used to buy time to complete OBC reservation in polls. The OBC community is considered a powerful voting bloc and all political parties are keen to be seen as favouring their reservations in the election.
As it was contended before the bench that the process of identifying OBCs was underway in the state and OBC reservation should be allowed in the coming elections, the bench made it clear that it cannot do so without the government fulfilling the triple test criteria laid out by the Supreme Court.
The three conditions given by the SC were – one, setting up of a dedicated commission to conduct a contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua the local bodies in the states, which are required to be followed before provisioning such reservation for the OBC category.
Two, specifying the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise, and three, such reservation shall not exceed an aggregate of 50 per cent of the total seats reserved in favour of the SCs, STs, and OBCs taken together.
The SC, last December, had held the elections would be conducted without OBC reservations as the state had failed to fulfil the triple test criteria including collecting data. The apex court had directed the state election commission to convert 27 percent reserved seats into general seats.
More recently, in March this year, the SC observed that “not a single logic” was given by the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes in its interim report for recommending 27 percent OBC quota in local body polls, and directed that elections be held without the reservation and for those OBC seats to be converted into general category.