OBC quota: Supreme Court ruling a blow to Uddhav Thackeray Government

Revert 27% seats reserved in local body polls to ‘general category’, says court

In a blow to the Uddhav Thackeray Government in Maharshtra, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to revert 27% seats reserved for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in local body elections to “general category”.

The court ordered the Commission to denotify the 27% seats as OBC and issue fresh notification declaring them as belonging to the general category within a week.

The court said the final results of the remaining 73% seats, for which the local body elections process were already on, and the freshly notified 27% should be declared on the same day.

The court had, on December 6, stayed the elections to the 27% OBC reserved seats. It had allowed the local body election process for the remaining 73% to continue.

“Direct State authority and State Election Commission to treat the notification issued for OBC reservation as non est in every local body in which elections are already notified…

“In other words, the SEC must immediately issue fresh notification for the 27% seats reserved for OBC as ‘general category’ and initiate election process for those along with the election process for the remaining 73% seats.”

The order came in a petition challenging a Maharashtra Ordinance which introduced 27% reservation for OBC category in local elections.

The SEC had subsequently issued notifications to give effect to the ordinance.

A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar found that the Maharshtra Government had not complied with the “triple test” requirement before reserving the local body seats for OBC.

“The triple test need to be complied by the State authorities and the State Election Commission as a pre-condition for reservation for OBC in local bodies. As a result, it is not possible to countenance the argument that without complying with the triple test requirement, a State authority or Election Commission can be permitted to notify the seats for OBC in any local body across the State,” the court said.

It said a “triple test” has to be followed before deciding on the extent of quota to a category. Firstly, a dedicated Commission need to be set up to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness as regards local bodies within the State.

Secondly, there is a need to specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise in light of recommendations of the Commission, so as not to fall foul of overbreadth; and thirdly, reservation should not exceed aggregate of 50% of the seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together.

Though Maharashtra had set up a Commission in June 2021 to collect empirical data, the court had noticed that the State did not wait for the panel’s report. Instead, it had gone ahead and promulgated the Ordinance.

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