The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the operation of a Gujarat High Court order dismissing a petition that challenged holding of the local body elections under certain provisions which increased the number of councillors in a ward to four.
The court also issued notices to the Gujarat government, the State Election Commission and others, seeking replies within two weeks. The government was now mulling whether to move SC to reconsider the stay on HC order or reply to the notice.
The division bench, headed by Justice J Chelameswar, passed the order while acting on a plea moved by four Vadodara residents — Parmar Samantsinh, Pathan, Limbachiya Dinesh and Solanki Ashvin — who have challenged certain provisions of the Gujarat Provincial Municipal Corporation Act, 1949, the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2009 and the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Rules.
The petitioners have, among other things, challenged the “one ward, four councillors” system adopted by the government for urban local bodies. They had earlier moved a plea before the High Court, which dismissed it in July.
According to the petitioners, the system of having multi-member ward system was discontinued across India as it does not give proper representation to people and also fails to fix responsibility and accountability of a councillor . In Gujarat, the urban local bodies used to have three councillors per ward. However, recently, the government announced 50 per cent quota for women and increased the number of councillors per ward to four.
The local body polls in 253 municipalities, 208 taluka panchayats, 26 district panchayats and six municipal corporations are expected to be held in October. The stay order came as a jolt to the BJP government at a time when the State Election Commission was set to release the notification for the local body elections.
The state government was also studying legal options to move the SC after the High Court stayed the decision of compulsory voting by amending the Gujarat Local Authorities Act (Amendment) 2009.
According to the sources, the Supreme Court order will not affect the elections to the district panchayats and taluka panchayats where there is already a system of one councillor per ward.
“We are yet to get copy of the order. It will be studied to decide options,” said government spokesperson and Health Minister Nitin Patel, adding, “We have only brought in the system of four councillors per ward from three to include 50 per cent women reservation in the local bodies. Otherwise, the three-member system was in place since the time of Congress.”
Meanwhile, several meetings were held since afternoon at the State Election Commission Office, has also been sent a notice by the SC. “Led by Commissioner Varesh Sinha, at the preliminary stage various legal options were under discussion,” said an official. Narendra Rawat, Congress leader, said, “In the delimitation, the size of a ward has been increased up to 80,000 to 85,000 people to adhere to one councilor per 20,000 people. Larger but lesser wards will hamper growth.”