Local body polls: Maharashtra govt to file review plea against SC order directing polls without OBC reservation

The Maharashtra government will file a review petition in the Supreme Court against its order on Thursday directing the state election commission to not postpone and conduct elections to 92 municipal councils and four municipal panchayats without OBC reservation. The opposition slammed the government asking Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to take up OBC reservation and other more important issues during their visits to Delhi instead of discussing cabinet expansion with the BJP’s central leadership.

Expressing its unhappiness over the state election commission’s decision to announce a fresh election programme for 367 local bodies for which the poll process had already been notified, the SC stated that its earlier ruling, accepting the Banthia Commission’s recommendation for OBC reservation, was misinterpreted.

“The SEC cannot and shall not remotely change the election programme so as to provide reservation in respect of 367 local bodies referred to in the affidavit before this Court on June 8, 2022. In case of any breach of this direction, the SEC and all concerned may be personally responsible including for action of committed contempt of having directions issued by this court,” the SC ruled on Thursday.

Reacting to the top court’s order, Fadnavis said, “We will file a review petition. When OBC reservation has been allowed across 34 zilla parishads, 226 municipal councils, 27 municipal corporations, 28,813 gram panchayats and 351 panchayat samitis, how can there be a discrimination against handful of local bodies? It would amount to injustice. We cannot allow elections to 92 municipal councils without OBC reservation.”

“All local bodies in the state, except these municipal bodies, have OBC reservation following the July 19 decision of the Supreme Court. We find it strange that the Supreme Court delivered this judgement as, in its last hearing itself, it had ruled in favour of postponing the (municipal) polls. Since no notification on the new dates has been issued, the previous one of announcing postponement of the polls stands valid. The state will present this position in the court,” Fadnavis said.

Sources in the state election commission said the panel was yet to receive the court order and will decide on its course of action based on it. Fadnavis said the government will argue in court that since political reservation for the OBCs has been implemented across all local bodies, it wouldn’t be fair to keep these bodies out of it.

On July 9, the Banthia Commission submitted its report to the state government, recommending a 27 per cent OBC reservation in local bodies. On July 19, the apex court had accepted the Banthia commission report on OBC reservation, bringing almost a two-year long stalemate over the issue to an end. Following that order, reservation of OBCs is now applicable in all local bodies of the state based on the proportion of the OBC population in the respective civic bodies. The SC had ruled that in districts where the population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is higher than that of the OBCs, the OBC quota shall be less to ensure that the aggregate 50 per cent ceiling is not violated.

On July 8, the SEC had announced the election programme for 92 municipal councils and four municipal panchayats. After the state government submitted the Banthia commission report to the Supreme Court, it issued a stay on the poll programme on July 14 pending its final order in the matter. The Supreme Court, however, came down heavily on the SEC for announcing a stay on the poll programmes and directed it to conduct the elections as per the previously announced programme, which is without OBC reservation.

Taking a swipe at the BJP-Shinde Sena government, NCP state president Jayant Patil said, “The two leaders are visiting Delhi, trying to appease the rebels. At the same time, a section in the BJP is unhappy over Fadnavis being given the deputy CM’s post. In all of this, the government has no time to concentrate on the OBC reservation issue which resulted in today’s verdict.”

Congress state president Nana Patole said the government should focus on a legal battle in a bid to reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling instead of worrying about the stability of the government. “The Congress is of the opinion that no election should be held without OBC reservation,” he said.

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