A Karnataka government notification prescribing the reservation matrix for 243 wards of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike—as a precursor to holding polls for the Bengaluru city council that are due since September 2020—was quashed by the Karnataka High Court Friday on the grounds that it does not fulfil Supreme Court norms.
A single-judge bench of the high court gave the state government two months to come up with a fresh notification for the reservation matrix and asked the state election commission to conduct the BBMP polls by December 31, 2022. The high court has said that the reservation matrix must be fixed in a scientific manner by considering the population in each ward.
“In furnishing the empirical data, you have to formulate a report and submit the same with the state government for issuing the final notification. The final notification shall be published on or before 30.11.2022. The Karnataka State Election Commission will complete the election process within 30 days of the date of completion of final notification,” Justice Hemanth Chandangoudar said Friday.
The high court said that the government notification of August 16, 2022, fixing reservations for the 243 wards of the BBMP, has to go since it “does not satisfy the triple test norms” set out by the Supreme Court in the case of Dr K Krishnamurthy vs Union of India in 2010.
“The reservation for women for posts has to be done in a descending order by taking into account the larger population in each of the wards,” the High Court said.
According to the Urban Development Department notification of August 16, 81 out of the 243 seats in the BBMP will be reserved for Other Backward Classes (33 per cent reservation) and 32 will be reserved for Scheduled Castes and Tribes (13 per cent) and 97 for women (40 per cent across all categories).
The notification was challenged as unscientific in 16 separate petitions by B S Manjunath Reddy and others.
The petitioners and Opposition parties in BJP-ruled Karnataka have argued that the reservation matrix has been created without following any established guidelines on which constituencies should be reserved for women, for backward classes, and for SC and ST.
The Karnataka government issued the draft notification for reservations in the Bengaluru city council wards on August 3 and the final notification on August 16 in view of the Supreme Court of India directing the state on July 28 to declare the ward-wise reservations for the Bengaluru city council within a week to facilitate the long-delayed polls for the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike.
Beginning with a 2010 constitution bench judgment in a case (Dr K Krishnamurthy vs Union of India) – where the validity of political reservations for OBCs under Articles 243-D(6) and 243-T(6) under the Constitution of India was challenged – the Supreme Court has emphasized the need for OBC quota in elections to be backed by empirical data as opposed to reservation for socially, economically backward castes (Scheduled Castes/Tribes/ Backward castes) in education and employment.
In the 2010 judgment the SC ruled that “identification of “backward classes” under Article 243-D(6) and Article 243-T(6) should be distinct from the identification of SEBCs (Socially and Economically Backward Castes) for the purpose of Article 15(4) and that of backward classes for the purpose of Article 16(4)..”
“In the absence of updated empirical data, it is well nigh impossible for the courts to decide whether the reservations in favor of OBC groups are proportionate or not,” the Supreme Court said in 2010.
While the Supreme Court order from the 2010 case was not implemented by states, the question of OBC reservations came into relevance again in 2019-2020 when the validity of reservations of over 50 percent of seats for local polls in Maharashtra was called into question in the courts. A three judge bench of the Supreme Court in a March 2021 order in a case (Vikas Krishnarao Gawali vs State of Maharashtra) set out a “three step rule” to empirically establish quotas for OBCs in elections.
The three step rule laid down by the SC said that a state commission must “conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua local bodies, within the State; specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise in light of recommendations of the Commission, so as not to fall foul of over breadth;” and that “reservation shall not exceed aggregate of 50 per cent of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs” together.
The SC on January 19, 2022 said all states in the country must follow the triple test condition laid down by the court in the March 2021 order to facilitate OBC reservations.
“We reiterate that similar dispensation be followed including regarding the compliance of triple test by all States or the Union Territories, if they intend to conduct election of local Government and provide for reservation for OBC category. In case, the State or the Union Territory is not in a position to fulfil the triple test requirement and the election to any of its local body cannot be postponed beyond the statutory period, the concerned (State) Election Commission ought to notify proportionate seats as open category seats, and proceed with the elections of the local bodies,” the Supreme Court said.