Supreme Court stays Allahabad High Court order to conduct U.P. local body polls without OBC reservation

SC records UP's assurance to complete exercise to identify politically backward classes in the State on or before March 31, 2023

Updated - January 05, 2023 12:45 am IST

Published - January 04, 2023 04:48 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court of India.

The Supreme Court of India. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed an Allahabad High Court direction to the State of Uttar Pradesh to hold local body elections without reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC).

“To hold elections without reservation… that would not be a satisfactory state of affairs,” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud orally observed.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Uttar Pradesh, said the direction, if implemented, would mean that “one segment of the State would remain unrepresented”.

The High Court had, on December 27, 2022, ordered elections to be held without OBC reservation after discovering that Uttar Pradesh had not complied with the “triple-test” criteria mandated by the Supreme Court to conduct a “contemporaneous rigorous empirical investigation” to identify backward classes in the State who deserve political representation in local bodies.

On Wednesday, Mr. Mehta informed the apex court that the State had on December 28, a day after the High Court order, notified the formation of the ‘Uttar Pradesh State Local Bodies Dedicated Backward Classes Commission’.

The Solicitor General assured the court that though the Commission was given six months’ time to complete its work, it could be done within three months “without compromising on quality”. The court recorded the Solicitor General’s submission that the Commission would complete the exercise “as expeditiously as possible on or before March 31, 2023”.

Mr. Mehta said there were 79 backward communities listed in the Schedule of the U.P. State Public Services (Reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes) Act, 1994. The “limited scope” of the Backward Classes Commission was to identify politically backward communities among the 79.

“The limited scope of the Backward Classes Commission is to determine the political backwardness of the existing listed communities and not get into identifying new OBCs,” the law officer submitted.

But the Bench, also comprising Justice PS Narasimha, said the court does not want to “injunct” the Commission.

“Why should we say the Commission will not recognise a new category?” Chief Justice Chandrachud asked.

Meanwhile, as an interim measure, the Bench adopted the High Court’s direction to the State to form three-member committees headed by District Magistrates in places where the tenures of the elected bodies had expired.

Mr. Mehta said the tenure of several local bodies in the State had either expired or would expire by the end of January.

The Bench ordered the State government to issue a fresh order delegating the day-to-day administrative work of local bodies to such three-member committees. These committees however would take no policy decisions.

The court issued notice to parties who were writ petitioners in the Allahabad High Court and listed the case after three weeks. The State government and the Election Commission had appealed to the Supreme Court against the High Court order.

Advocate G. Mohan Gopal, appearing on caveat, indicated that the case raised the fundamental question whether OBC reservation in local bodies should be limited to the existing backward communities listed in the 1994 Act. He said the objective of such a Commission was to identify a “vote class”.

In fact, the 1994 Act was concerned with reservation in higher education and public employment and not quota for political representation in local bodies.

To buttress the point, the High Court had relied on a 2010 Constitution Bench judgment of the Supreme Court in K. Krishnamurthy versus Union of India, which had clearly held that the “nature and purpose of reservation in relation to local bodies is considerably different from that in relation to higher education and public employment”.

“The reservation benefits contemplated by Articles 15(4) and 16(4) [reservation in higher education, public employment] cannot be mechanically applied in the context of reservations enabled by Articles 243-D and 243-T [reservation of seats in panchayats, municipalities],” the High Court had quoted the Constitution Bench judgment.

The Constitution Bench had concluded that there was an “inherent difference” between the nature of benefits that accrue from access to education and employment on one hand and political representation at the grassroots level.

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