The Supreme Court on Friday paved the way for conducting elections to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), two years after its previous term came to an end.
The elections are crucial and is seen by many as a precursor to the Karnataka Assembly polls due in 2023.
Critics argue that the elections have been postponed deliberately by the ruling BJP to fortify the positions of its MLAs, who have been calling the shots in Bengaluru in the absence of a civic body.
Bengaluru contributes 12.5% of the seats in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly and over 60% of the State’s revenue annually.
On Friday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Karnataka, assured a Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar that delimitation of wards for the civic body polls was in its “final stage” and a “dedicated commission” was also in the process of determining the reservation to be provided for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) ahead of the elections.
Mr. Mehta said a “new” municipal corporation had been constituted under the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Act of 2020, which came into effect from January 11, 2021. The government subsequently wasted no time in proceeding with the delimitation and the formation of the dedicated commission for determining the OBC percentage.
The State said the tasks of delimitation of wards and the carving out of OBC reservation would be completed and notified within eight weeks.
The court recorded the undertaking and further directed the State Election Commission (SEC) “to commence its preparatory exercise for conducting the elections to install the newly elected body”.
‘Begin its preparatory exercise’
The court ordered that the SEC could begin its preparatory exercise within one week of the notification of delimitation of wards or determination of OBC reservation, whichever of the two comes later.
“Needless to observe, once the State Election Commission initiates the process for conduct of elections, it must take the same to its logical end in accordance with law as expeditiously as possible,” the court observed in the order.
To a request to fix a deadline for the SEC to conduct the elections, Justice Khanwilkar replied that “there may be a variety of factors... Monsoon may not permit holding of elections... We don’t know. The Election Commission will decide. It is an independent, constitutional body. It will deal with it”.
Madhya Pradesh case
Just a few days ago, in a separate case, the Supreme Court had observed that the delay in holding elections to a staggering 23,000 local bodies Madhya Pradesh “bordered on the breakdown of the rule of law”.
The court stressed the duty of the SECs to “ensure that the elected body is installed before the expiry of the five-year term of the outgoing elected body”.
Election commissions cannot reel out grounds like ongoing delimitation of new wards to delay elections where it was due or even overdue, the apex court had held in the Madhya Pradesh case.