Supreme Court allows OBC quota for Madhya Pradesh Local Bodies

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General View of Supreme Court of india in New Delhi, India on 22 January 2020. No stay on CAA-NPR, Assam-Tripura matters segregated; top court bars HCs from hearing pleas on law (Photo by Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Following the order’s passage, Maharashtra’s governing Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) argued that different laws were applied to various states, and requested that if the Supreme Court had authorised OBC reservations in Madhya Pradesh, the same should be allowed in Maharashtra.

On the basis of a second report filed by the state backward classes commission, the Supreme Court permitted local body elections in Madhya Pradesh with reservations for OBCs on Wednesday. The court so changed its May 10 ruling, which had instructed that the polls be notified without a quota for OBCs since the state had failed to meet the “triple standard” set forth by the court in March 2021 for giving such reservation.

Following the order’s passage, Maharashtra’s governing Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) argued that different laws were applied to various states, and requested that if the Supreme Court had authorised OBC reservations in Madhya Pradesh, the same should be allowed in Maharashtra.

Since 2010, the Supreme Court has emphasised that, unlike reservation for OBCs (together with SCs and STs) in education and employment, OBC quotas in elections should be supported by actual facts. In the absence of current empirical data on OBC groups, local body elections in at least three states, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh, have been halted.

On what grounds has the Supreme Court approved Madhya Pradesh’s local body elections?
Madhya Pradesh had filed an appeal to have the court’s May 10 ruling modified, claiming that the backward classes commission had written a second report that met the triple-test criterion based on the court’s remarks. On May 12, a revised report was filed. The Bench said it concentrated on the local body-by-local body reserve for OBCs, bearing in mind the Supreme Court’s maximum reservation restriction of 50%. “We authorise the Madhya Pradesh State Election Commission to notify the election programme for the respective local bodies,” the court stated. “We may not be interpreted to have issued a definitive view either way on the validity and truth of disclosed Reports,” says the statement, and “as and when a challenge is made up…that may have to be assessed on its own merits…”

Why did the Supreme Court in Maharashtra reject the interim report of the state backward classes commission?
The Maharashtra government was ordered by the Supreme Court in January to provide data on OBCs to the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC), which would evaluate it and make recommendations on their representation in local elections. The MSCBC was also ordered by the highest court to provide an interim report to the relevant authorities within two weeks of obtaining information from the state government.

Following that, the government gave the data to the MSCBC and demanded an interim report as soon as possible. After analysing the statistics, the MSCBC suggested that OBCs be awarded up to 27% quota in its 35-page interim report released in February. The SC, on the other hand, rejected it, claiming that it was written in the “lack of scientific facts.” “The report states that it is being developed in the absence of empirical investigation and study by the Commission. The Commission should not have issued the interim report after failing to do so, according to Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar. “As a result, it is impossible to allow any authority, much alone the State Election Commission, to act on the abovementioned report’s recommendations.” For the time being, we will refrain from debating the validity of each of the commission’s remarks in the interim report. The court, on the other hand, directs all parties involved not to act on the interim report as provided.”

What is the current legal situation in Maharashtra?
The Maharashtra State Election Commission was ordered by the Supreme Court on May 4 to publish the election timetable for local governments within two weeks based on the previous delimitation procedure, rejecting the argument that it could only be done after new delimitation.

The Bench stated that the procedure “cannot bear any delay” because the five-year terms of roughly 2,486 local bodies in the state had ended and elections were necessary to be held under the provisions of the Constitution and the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act. The state election commission then submitted an affidavit claiming that polls could not be held owing to the monsoon and informing the top court that elections for urban and rural local bodies would be held in September and October, respectively. After the SC requested that the elections be held in areas with less rainfall, the SEC stated before the SC that it would “commence the process forthwith in respect of areas/ districts which may not be affected by monsoon and even if after the notification, the schedule can be modulated appropriately district-wise and local body-wise if the situation warrants so.” The next hearing date has been set on July 12.

What was the “triple test” that the Supreme Court mandated, and when did it apply?
The Supreme Court interpreted Section 12(2)(c) of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961, as an enabling clause that may be used only if three requirements are met before notifying the seats designated for OBCs in local bodies. Section 12(2)(c) deals with OBCs being given 27% of seats in Zilla Parishads.

  • A state commission must “conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of backwardness qua local bodies, within the state”;
  • specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body wise in light of commission recommendations
  • total “reservation (must) not exceed”

Why are governments so eager to have these polls, and what is the issue in gathering OBC information?
Elections to five municipal corporations in Maharashtra were postponed for over two years owing to the Covid-19 outbreak. In March and April of this year, the periods of ten municipal corporations, 25 Zilla Parishads, municipal councils, Panchayat Samitis, and Gram Panchayats came to an end. The MVA administration is eager to organise OBC quota elections for these local bodies.

According to government sources, a door-to-door survey is not viable for obtaining empirical evidence for awarding OBC quotas since it might result in a host of social concerns in the future in the state. “When the Karnataka government’s caste census data was leaked, dominating communities questioned the findings and objected to the state government’s decision to make it public. As a result, the same thing may happen in our state, pitting communities against one another for no cause. It might disrupt the state’s social fabric,” a source added.

In 2016, information from the Karnataka government’s socioeconomic study was released, suggesting that the number of Vokkaligas and Lingayats was lower than previously thought. Following that, both groups protested the findings, casting doubt on its accuracy. “The union government has the authority to undertake a caste census, but it has refused.” If the Centre, while having the ability, refuses to conduct the caste census, any group would dispute the state government’s conduct if the survey finds that the number of any community is smaller than what they believe or expect. “The whole thing will be a waste of time,” the person continued.

Where does this issue move from here?
On the model of the Madhya Pradesh government, the MVA government plans to present an empirical data report. “In Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court has approved OBC reservation.” As a result, we have begun urgent activities throughout the state. The Jayant Banthia Committee has been formed and is now working. When the Committee’s report is out in June, we will present our case before the Supreme Court along the same lines as Madhya Pradesh,” Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said.

Following the rejection of the MSCBC’s interim report by the Supreme Court, the MVA government formed a six-member commission in March, led by former chief secretary Banthia, to prepare a report on the state’s political backwardness of the OBCs in order to provide them with reservation in local bodies. The commission has been granted three months to present its findings by the administration.