Maharashtra local body elections: SC warns SEC of contempt if polls renotified to include OBC quota

THE SUPREME Court on Thursday pulled up the Maharashtra State Election Commission (SEC) and warned it of contempt of court action if it re-notifies elections to 367 local bodies taking the cover of the top court’s July 20 order allowing reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the local body polls.

A bench presided by Justice A M Khanwilkar said that while allowing the OBC reservation on July 20, the court had made it clear that this will not apply to the 367 local bodies where elections had already been notified thereby kickstarting the election process.

Expressing displeasure over the “misreading” of its July 20 order, the bench also comprising Justices A S Oka and J B Pardiwala said it had only allowed the SEC to realign the dates if needed in these local bodies but “cannot and shall not” renotify the election process.

“We have no hesitation in observing that the understanding of the respondent wrt (with regard to) our order dated 20.07.2022 to say the least is misreading of the direction contained therein. The SEC in terms of that order is obliged to complete the election process which has already been notified wrt 367 local bodies on the date of that order…The only liberty given to the SEC is to re-align the dates of the election programmes already notified subject to certain exigencies in the respective constituencies,” said the bench.

On July 20, the top court while accepting the recommendations of the Banthia Commission providing 27 per cent OBC reservation in the local bodies had directed that election for local bodies in the state be notified in the next two weeks. The court, however, made it clear that the new reservation policy will not apply to the 367 local bodies where the election process had already been set in motion.

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In December 2021, the SC had stayed elections to 27 per cent seats reserved for OBC category in local bodies in Maharashtra, concluding that the state government had not followed the mandatory triple test laid down by it before deciding to earmark the quota. It asked the state government and SEC to renotify 27 per cent seats reserved for OBCs as general category and hold elections to them along with the remaining 73 per cent.

Subsequently, the then MVA government had set up a commission led by former chief secretary Jayant Banthia and asked him to collate data as sought by the court. The Commission submitted a report following which the new Shiv SenaBJP government approached the Supreme Court seeking permission to hold elections to local bodies by introducing the OBC quota.

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