Petitioners contend government cannot amend rules at eleventh hour

The Madras High Court Bench here on Thursday said that it will decide on October 10 the validity of a Government Order (G.O.) issued on September 7 amending Rule 5 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats, Third-Grade Municipalities, Municipalities and Corporations (Delimitation of Wards or Divisions and Reservations) Rules, 1996.

The original rule stated that reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women in the offices of Chairman of Town Panchayats, Municipalities and Mayor of Corporations should be followed for two full terms (10 years) and rotated thereafter at every 10-year interval based on the next higher percentage of population of respective groups. However, the government now chose to amend the rule and make reservations afresh, during the upcoming local body elections, irrespective of the fact that certain posts were already under reservation for 10 years. The decision to make fresh reservations was taken in view of the expansion of territorial limits of 16 urban local bodies in the State this year.

According to the G.O., 25 Municipalities, 30 Town Panchayats and 96 Village Panchayats were merged with 16 urban local bodies pursuant to the 2006- elections. Eight Municipal Corporations of Chennai, Coimbatore, Tiruchi, Madurai, Tirupur, Erode, Vellore and Tuticorin and eight Municipalities of Kancheepuram, Tirupattur, Villupuram, Hosur, Namakkal, Karur, Pudukottai and Nagercoil had been expanded by adding nearby Municipalities, Town Panchayats and Village Panchayats.

While there were only six Municipal Corporations in the 2006 elections, the number had risen to 10 this year. The number of Municipalities too increased from 102 to 125. Consequently, the number of Town Panchayats decreased from 561 to 529 and the number of Grade III Municipalities came down from 49 to nil. In view of the changes in territorial limits of 16 urban local bodies, the strength of the councils was revised upward based on the 2001 population census figures. Therefore, the government felt that there was a need to make reservation afresh in respect of the 16 urban local bodies.

However, two individuals, A. Kaja Mohideen of Ambasamudram Municipality in Tirunelveli district and S. Balakrishnasamy of Virudhunagar Municipality, had filed individual cases challenging the G.O. They claimed that the two Municipalities had been reserved for women this year also though they had already completed the mandatory tenure of 10 years under reservation.

A Division Bench of Justices P.P.S. Janarthana Raja and Aruna Jagadeesan on Thursday posted the two cases for final hearing on October 10. They directed Additional Advocate General K. Chellapandian to file the government's counter affidavit on that day. Earlier, arguing for the petitioners, senior counsel AR.L. Sundaresan and T.S.R. Venkataramana contended that the government could not amend the rule related to reservation at the eleventh hour.

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