Updated: June 15, 2021 7:52:57 am
The Supreme Court last month quashed Maharashtra’s review petition challenging its earlier verdict that scrapped a quota for OBCs in the state’s local bodies, triggering a war of words between the ruling and opposition parties.
This is the third caste-related controversy to hit the Maha Vikas Aghadi government after the Supreme Court’s decision abolishing the Maratha quota and the government’s own decision to scrap a quota in government promotions.
What is the OBC reservation in local bodies in the state?
The Maharashtra government set up a 27 per cent quota in local bodies for OBCs in 1994. The 27 per cent reservation was applicable to all urban (Municipal Corporations, Councils and Nagar Panchayat) and rural bodies (Zilla Parishad, Panchayat Samiti and Gram Panchayat) across the state.
In Maharashtra, the OBCs include the Denotified Tribes (Vimukta Jatis), Nomadic Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Special Backward Category. This quota for OBCs increased their representation in rural and urban local bodies.
What is the history of the demand for an OBC census in Maharashtra?
As per the Mandal Commission report, the last caste-wise census was conducted in 1931 and it was later discontinued. Based on the data from the 1931 census, the Mandal commission worked out the OBC population to be 52 per cent and recommended a 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in view of the SC judgment limiting reservation up to 50 per cent.
There was already a 22.5 per cent reservation for SC and ST categories. The Mandal Commission report recommended 27 per cent reservation in government jobs and promotions along with others.
The Mandal Commission report gave momentum to OBC leaders and the community’s demand for a caste-wise census of OBC. Several leaders of various parties such as Chhagan Bhujbal and Gopinath Munde, among others, took up the issue and pressed for an OBC census.
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The 2011 census included data about the socio-economic caste census but has not released the data citing the errors in it. In 2018, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls the following year, the Centre announced that OBC enumeration will be done in the 2021 census. But this promise could not be tested with the onset of the pandemic and the indefinite delay in population enumeration.
OBC leaders fear the OBC enumeration may never actually happen. “The opposition to revealing the data or to conducting the OBC census stems from the fact that the OBCs may emerge as a stronger force and this will threaten the politics of the major political parties,” said Haribhau Rathod, former MP and an OBC leader.
In January last year, the state legislative assembly also passed a resolution recommending the Centre conduct an OBC caste-wise census, which was scheduled to commence in 2021.
How did the matter reach the SC?
In 2018, Vikas Gawali, a former member of the Zilla Parishad from Washim and a member of the OBC community, filed a petition before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court seeking a stay on the election process, citing the quota was exceeding the 50 per cent limit in Akola and Washim Zilla Parishads which is contrary to SC 2010 judgment of K Krishna Murthy (Dr.) and Ors. vs. Union of India and others.
The court granted the status quo and the elections were delayed. Meanwhile, upon learning about a similar petition in SC, Gawali filed an intervention in the SC which passed an interim order directing the state election commission to hold elections of Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis of Akola, Washim, Dhule, Nandurbar and Nagpur subject to the outcome of SC petition.
Soon after the SC interim order, Gawali filed another petition in the SC challenging the state election commission notification issued in July 2018 and February 2020 for elections in Washim, Akola, Nagpur and Bhandara exceeding the 50 per cent reservation limit. His petition also challenged the SC’s interim order. It appears that the intention behind the petition was to force the issue of enumeration of OBCs.
On March 4 this year, terming Section 12(2)(c) of The Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961 as an enabling provision, the SC read it down in stating that it may be invoked only upon complying with the triple conditions before notifying the seats reserved for OBC category in the concerned local bodies. Section 12(2)(c) deals with reserving the 27 per cent seats in Zilla Parishads for OBCs.
The triple conditions included setting up “a dedicated Commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua local bodies, within the State” to specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise in light of recommendations of the commission. It also stated that such reservation, in any case, shall not exceed the aggregate of 50 per cent of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs, STs and OBCs taken together.
Besides, the SC also directed that the OBC seats in these five constituencies be vacated and be filled through the open category. The apex court observed the reservation for OBCs is only “statutory”, to be provided by the state legislations, unlike the “constitutional” reservation regarding SCs/STs which is linked to the proportion of the population.
The review petition filed by the Maharashtra government on the SC verdict was quashed by the apex court in the last week of May.
What do OBC leaders say now?
There has been a mixed response from the OBC leaders to the SC verdict, with some welcoming it while others lamenting on losing reservation.
Rathod welcomed the SC verdict stating that it will pave the way for conducting the OBC census in the state. “So far, there was no data about the OBC population and our demand for the OBC census for the last 30 years have fallen on deaf ears. With this SC order, the state has to conduct the census now. Else, there will be no OBC reservation in the local bodies polls and the ruling parties will have to pay a huge price for it,” said Rathod.
He further said that if the state government does not take up the necessary steps suggested by the SC, then the OBCs will lose reservation in all the elections to be held henceforth for all the urban and rural local bodies. It also includes the ten municipal corporations including BMC and 27 Zilla Parishads for which the elections are likely to be held early next year, he added.
However, Chandrakant Bavkar, president of the OBC Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, said that the OBCs will pay a huge price due to the apex court verdict. “The SC verdict is a major setback for the community. Many OBC representatives have lost their membership of the local bodies where the elections were held subject to outcome of the SC order. Besides, collecting the empirical data is long-drawn process and may take more than a year. So, there will be no OBC reservation in the elections to ten municipal corporations and 27 Zilla Parishads which are likely to be held early next year. This will be huge injustice to the OBC community,” said Bavkar.
What is the way ahead?
Officials from the state election commission said that after the apex court order, all the OBC seats of these Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis, which were conducted subject to the outcome of the SC petitions, have been vacated and converted into open category. Out of that, 50 per cent of seats have been reserved for women from the open category. The elections could not be held due to the second covid wave, said an official.
Kiran Kurundkar, secretary of the state election commission, said, “The SC judgment is applicable to the elections of all local bodies — rural and urban. This includes polls pending due to Covid and the upcoming elections. So, the state election commission will consult with the state government whenever the local bodies polls are held and will decide on the OBC reservation as per the SC order.”
Meanwhile, last week, a delegation led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray met PM Narendra Modi and raised twelve key issues that included OBC reservation. As per a statement from the CM’s office, the SC verdict is likely to impact around 56,000 seats in all local bodies in the state.
Thackeray sought the 2011 census data which has a socio-economic caste census from the Centre, stating that the data will be useful in deciding the OBC reservation. He also requested the prime minister to relax the 50 per cent limit for all SC, ST and OBC reservation in local bodies and to amend the Constitution to grant “constitutional” status to OBC reservation.
On March 3, the Maharashtra government-appointed retired Justice Anand Nirgude as chairperson of Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes. Earlier this month, Vijay Wadettiwar, Minister for Other Backward Classes Welfare, announced the names of the nine members who will be part of the Commission on Other Backward Classes (OBCs) that was set up to collect empirical data on the community.
Rathod, however, said this commission has limited powers for inclusion and exclusion of backward classes and is not a dedicated commission for collecting the empirical data for the OBC. “It does not comply with the SC verdict,” he added.
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