In a serious setback to the State government, the High Court of Karnataka on Friday issued direction for holding elections expeditiously to 198 wards of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) council and also held that amended law to increase the number of wards in the BBMP to 243 would not apply to the present election.
While directing the government to publish within a month the final notification on caste-based reservation of 198 wards based on the draft notification issued in September, the court asked the State Election Commission (SEC) to hold elections as expeditiously as possible by publishing the election programme within a maximum period of six weeks from the date of publication of the final reservation notification.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice S. Vishwajith Shetty delivered the verdict on separate PIL petitions filed by the SEC, two former councillors M. Shivaraj and Abdul Wajid, and Ravi Jagan, a resident of Kalyan Nagar.
The Bench held that the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (third Amendment) Act, 2020, which increases number of wards of the BBMP and allows the government to set up panels for delimitation of wards in all corporations, would not apply to the elections of the corporations which ought to have been held as per the mandate of Article 243U the Constitution before October 3, 2020, when amendment Act came into force.
Stating that the laws made by the State legislature cannot defeat the purpose of the constitutional mandate of holding elections to the corporations before expiry of their term, the Bench said allowing elections after creation of 243 wards as per the new law would ‘infringe’ on the constitutional provisions.
Allowing the process of increasing the number of wards may lead to a situation of not holding elections even till September 10, 2021 though election was due much before September 10, 2020, the Bench observed.
The SEC on January 24, 2020 had filed a PIL in the High Court seeking directions to the government to complete the processes of delimitation of wards as per the 2011 census and fixing caste-based reservation for wards at the earliest to enable the Commission to complete elections before the term of BBMP’s council ended on September 10.
Though the High Court had asked the government to complete both the process by April 1, the process were postponed due to lockdown imposed in view of COVID-19 pandemic besides delaying hearing before the court.
Once lockdown was relaxed, the government notified delimited wards on June 24 and published the draft reservation on September 24 while simultaneously moving an amendment for the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act in the legislature to increase number of wards in the BBMP.
After the legislature approved the amendment, the government on October 14 increased wards to 243 and set up a committee to carve out the new wards.
Following these developments, the SEC sought court’s permission to conduct elections to BBMP keeping number of wards as 198 while ignoring increase in number of wards.
The SEC had contended that the elections cannot be held for a year if increase in the number of wards has to be considered and such an event would result in violation of the constitutional mandate of timely holding elections to the local bodies.
However, it was argued on behalf of the government that the elections cannot be held ignoring the amendment of law to increase total number of wards to 243.