Supreme Court stays Allahabad High Court’s direction to hold urban local body elections sans OBC quota

ON Wednesday, the Supreme Court stayed the Allahabad High Court’s decision last week to hold urban local body elections sans reservation for Other Backward Classes (‘OBC’) in Uttar Pradesh. A division bench comprising Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice P.S. Narasimha was hearing an appeal filed by the UP Government against the high court’s order annulling the proposed reservation for OBCs.

A partial stay of the high court order does not mean that the government can hold immediate elections in the next three months, since it has assured the Supreme Court that it will request the commission formed by it carry out a survey to ensure that the benefits of the reservation are provided to the OBCs on the basis of the “triple test”, to submit its report within three months.

The bench noted that the direction of the high court mandating the holding of elections to local bodies without reserving seats for OBCs would result in a violation of the constitutional and statutory requirements of reservation for the OBCs.

“Democratization of municipalities under Article 243T and the duty to provide representation are not at competing values. Prima facie, the high court is not correct in prioritising one over the other and directing the holding of elections without the provision of representation for the Backward Classes. Democratising the municipalities and true representation in the composition of the municipalities under Article 243T are both constitutional mandates. When a constitutional court is called upon to review the decisions of the State in this context, it must ensure that both these values are given full effect so that truly representative and vibrant local bodies contemplated under Part IXA of the Constitution are realised.”, the bench observed

On December 28 last year, the high court invalidated the OBC quota in urban local body polls on the ground of not fulfilling the triple test laid down by the Supreme Court in K. Krishna Murthy & Ors. versus Union of India & Anr. (2010) and Vikas Kishanrao Gawali versus The State Of Maharashtra (2021) which inter alia mandated the constitution of a dedicated commission to conduct an empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of backwardness of a community in relation to local bodies, and providing the proportion of the reservation required in the light of recommendation of such a commission.

Though the UP government has now formed a five-member commission to carry out a survey to ensure compliance with the test, it also filed an appeal in the Supreme Court challenging the high court’s verdict. The Commission, as per the notification issued by the government, is to submit the report within six months.

When the appeal was taken up for hearing today, CJI Dr. Chandrachud asked the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, appearing for the UP Government, why the commission could not give its report early. Mehta assured the court that the government would request the commission to give the report within three months.

In order to allow the smooth functioning of local bodies in those cases where the term of the municipal body has ended or is about to end, the bench directed that a three-member Committee headed by the District Magistrate concerned, would look after the finances of such municipal bodies but no major policy decision would be taken by such committees.

Advocate Dr. G. Mohan Gopal, appearing for the All India Backward Classes Federation, raised the concern that the existing OBCs list would be interfered with. Mehta sought to clarify that no new list would be made by the commission formed by the government. The commission would examine the political backwardness of the existing OBCs for the purpose of quota in urban local body elections, he submitted.

Click here to read the order.

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