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‘Where is the logic?’ SC rejects Maharashtra recommendation for OBC quota in local body polls

SC cites lack of empirical data, directs state election body not to act on state backward class commission’s report. Seats reserved for OBCs to be treated as 'general'.

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New Delhi: “Where is the logic? There is not even a single logic given,” said the Supreme Court Thursday as it declined to accept the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission’s recommendation to restore 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the upcoming local body elections. 

The court directed the State Election Commission not to act on the recommendation and to notify the poll process without delay, with the seats that would have been reserved for OBCs now to be put in the general category.

A bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and C.T. Ravikumar criticised the interim report, observing that the commission’s recommendation was not supported by any empirical study. Hence, the report did not comply with an earlier Supreme Court direction under which such a panel is required to conduct rigorous research before proposing any suggestions, the court observed.

The bench was hearing an application moved by the Maharashtra government last week, informing the court about the commission’s report.

The panel was tasked with preparing a report on OBC reservation in local body elections after the top court in December last year stayed the implementation of the 27 per cent quota, which the state government had introduced through an ordinance two months before. It was noted then that the quota was being introduced without fulfilling the triple test principle laid down by the top court. 

In a 4 March 2021 judgment, the court had specified three conditions that the state must meet before it can reserve seats in local bodies for OBCs. These are as follows:

“(1) To set up a dedicated commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua local bodies, within the state; (2) 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 (3) in any case such reservation shall not exceed aggregate of 50 per cent of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together.”

Also read: Data for quota in promotion to be collected only for cadre, not for entire service, rules SC

‘Some discipline has to be there’

On Thursday, the bench came down heavily on the commission over its report, and rejected its argument that there is sufficient data to reserve the seats.

Both judges were of the view that the report did not spell out any rationale for the quota. 

They found it surprising that the commission chose to rely on the same data about which the court had earlier raised questions. “Now, they do not give the logic and basis for relying on it,” the bench said.

There should be more authentic data and the commission should have pressed for it, the bench noted when it was told that this data had been received from the chief minister’s office.

“This is how official work is done? Some discipline has to be there — there is no date on the report. How do we know if it is prepared with full understanding or not? If this is how a commission will work, then we doubt the recommendations of the commission,” the bench retorted.

Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for the Maharashtra government, contended that the commission may be able to justify the recommendation to reserve the seats. To this, the court replied: “It (commission) may be able to justify in one week, one month or whatever, but we cannot allow you to move further with such an interim report.”

The report needed to be “more than reproducing the data”. In its current format, it “does not take us anywhere,” the court said. According to the judges, the report is silent on the political participation of OBCs, which is necessary information.

Observing that the report is non-compliant with its earlier judgment, the bench ordered: “As a result, it is not possible to permit any authority, much less the State Election Commission” to act on the report. “We direct all the concerned not to act upon the recommendation.”

Meanwhile, the bench added, the commission shall continue with its exercise to study the empirical data local-body wise and submit its interim report — which must stand the test of judicial scrutiny — as and when it is ready.

Polls to be held without delay, seats to be general category 

On being informed that elections are overdue in 800 gram panchayats, the court directed the State Election Commission to notify the election process without delay. 

However, this must be done in accordance with the court’s orders in December 2021 and on 19 January 2022, which restrained the state poll body from implementing an OBC quota. In compliance with the court orders, the seats earlier reserved for OBCs must now be notified as general category seats.

 “The State Election Commission shall ensure that until further directions of this court, as and when elections become due, the same is notified while ensuring there is no delay in completion of process the statutory period of six months from the date of expiry of the normal term of the concerned local body,” the court ordered.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: ‘A democratising force, not at odds with merit’: Why SC upheld OBC quota in medical courses


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