Updated: May 7, 2022 11:12:02 pm
The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA)-led Maharashtra government has taken the view that the Supreme Court’s May 4 order asking the State Election Commission (SEC) to notify poll schedule for local bodies within two weeks on the basis of the previous delimitation exercise is not a setback for the government as it believes that these polls may be held in September-October and that the court’s direction has rather given it a breathing space to ensure OBC (Other Backward Classes) quota in the local body polls.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena president, had on Thursday convened a high-level meeting of the senior ministers, including Deputy CM Ajit Pawar and NCP minister Chhagan Bhujhbal, senior bureaucrats and advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhkoni, to deliberate on the issue in light of the apex court’s order. It was iterated in the meeting that the OBC quota will be ensured in the coming local body elections, said government sources.
Sources said that Kumbhkoni told the meeting that the apex court’s order is “ambiguous” in terms of whether the court has stayed the MVA government’s amended law, passed by the Maharashtra Assembly in early March this year, which has stripped the SEC of its powers with regards to the delimitation of the ward boundaries of the poll-bound local bodies. Some ministers also asked questions about the new law’s status as to whether it will continue to remain in effect or the ward formation in the local bodies should be done afresh, said sources.
While hearing petitions over the OBC reservation in the local body polls, the apex court on May 4 ruled that the SEC must proceed with the elections of such local bodies which had become due on expiry of their five-year term, and that the SEC is obliged to notify the election programme within two weeks. The top court also asked the SEC to carry forward the delimitation work done prior to the new law coming into force on March 11.
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“The Supreme Court had rejected the interim report of the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission which recommended restoring the OBC quota up to 27 per cent in local bodies. And the SEC was also not cooperating with the government and was taking a different stand. Had the new law not been enacted, the elections would have been held without the OBC quota. The MVA would have faced a lot of backlash from the OBC community,” said a government source.
The source pointed out that the new law provided for the redrawing of the ward boundaries of the local bodies, thereby deferring their entire election process by a couple of months. So even if the top court has asked the SEC to resume its delimitation work from where it was on March 10, the latter has taken the stand of not holding the local body elections in the monsoon season, said sources.
“The SC asking SEC to carry forward its delimitation work could be a technical setback for the government. But with the SEC taking a stand of not holding elections in monsoon, the local body elections are likely to be held in September-October. In March this year, the government appointed a dedicated commission to prepare data required for ensuring the OBC quota in local bodies and its report is likely to come in the next one or two months following which the OBC quota can be ensured. So, it is a major relief for the MVA government to hold the elections in September-October with OBC quota,” the source explained.
In its order given on March 4, 2021, the apex court, while reading down the provision of the OBC reservation in local bodies, asked the Maharashtra government to comply with triple conditions — setting up a commission for collecting empirical data on the OBC population, specifying the proportion of reservation, and ensuring that the cumulative share of reserved seats do not breach 50 per cent of total seats.
While the MVA government has appointed a commission for preparing a report, it also got a legislation passed by the Assembly during the winter session in December last year to provide up to 27 per cent reservation to the OBCs in the local bodies. With this, the government has fulfilled the two conditions, while hoping that the commission’s report would comply with the third condition on empirical OBC data.
The OBC reservation in local bodies has emerged as a major political issue in Maharashtra. The principal Opposition BJP believes that the apex court’s orders have caused a setback to the MVA coalition government comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. The BJP claims that decks have been cleared now for local body elections without the OBC quota, which it is planning to exploit to its electoral advantage.
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