INDIA. Mumbai: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court (SC) eased political tension in Maharashtra by accepting the Banthia Commission report and approving a 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in local body elections.
Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis both took to Twitter to celebrate the SC’s order. Fadnavis wrote, “Our grand coalition government kept its promise of OBC political reservation! The recognition of OBC political reservation by the Supreme Court is a victory for the entire OBC community.”
On the other hand, Shinde tweeted, “The OBC community has been granted political reservation by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. We are the true Shiv Sainiks of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray. Once a promise is made, it will be kept.”
The bench, comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, A.S. Oka, and J.B. Pardiwala, said: “We direct the State Election Commission (SEC) to ensure the election process in respect to each of those local bodies is immediately commenced and taken forward based on order dated May 4, 2022.”
The SC also directed the Election Commission and SEC to announce elections within 2 weeks. The elections to 92 municipal councils and 4 Gram Panchayats were delayed due to the pending SC judgment.
In March, the MVA government had set up a committee led by former chief secretary Jayant Banthia for collating empirical data on the OBCs following the SC’s refusal to accept an interim report of the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission (MSBCC) headed by Justice (retired) AV Nirgude.
In the MSBCC in February had recommended the restoration of a 27% political quota in local bodies subject to a permissible upper limit of 50% excluding statutory reservation for SC and ST. It had stated that the OBC population in Maharashtra is 38% and not 33% as pointed out by the union ministry of social justice in its report released in March 2021.
Whereas the Banthia Commission formed on March 10 by the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, in its report submitted to the Shinde- Fadnavis government on July 10, said that as per the survey carried out based on the voter’s list, the population of the backward class of citizens is estimated to be around 37% and it is different in each local body.
As such the reservation for the backward class of citizens should be given in proportion to their population in each local body without affecting the statutory reservation for SC and ST subject to the overall reservation limit of 50%.
The Commission submitted its report to the SC on July 12. In between the SEC announced the program of local elections on August 18 (without OBC reservation). This stance was questioned by the Maharashtra government and Opposition.
The state implemented the 27 percent OBC reservation in civic body elections in 1994. However subsequently, Vikas Gawali, a former member of Zilla Parishad from Washim district, approached the Bombay High Court and sought a stay in the election process in Washim and Akola districts citing the breaching of the 50 percent ceiling for reservation.
The court ordered the status quo and the elections were delayed. Then Gawali approached the SC, which passed an interim order directing the SEC to conduct the polls subject to the final order of the pending petition.
In 2010, SC stated that dedicated commissions need to be appointed to conduct a rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of backwardness. In the absence of updated empirical data, the courts can’t decide whether the reservations in favour of OBC groups are proportionate or not. The court also fixed the upper limit of reservation at 50 percent.
In March 2021, the SC said that the provision of Section 12 (2) (c) of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act 1961 gave 27 percent reservation to OBCs might be invoked only after complying with the condition to conduct the empirical inquiry.
After political parties unanimously decided to not hold elections without the OBC quota, the Maharashtra government began demarcating municipal wards for local civic bodies and annulled the earlier procedure. Despite this, the SC on May 10, asked the SEC to announce the election program without the OBC quota.