The Supreme Court stay of a direction of the Allahabad High Court to immediately notify local body polls in Uttar Pradesh in the general/open category without reserving seats for Other Backward Classes (OBC) is a deviation from its own May 10, 2022 judgment concerning local body elections in Madhya Pradesh.
On December 27, the Allahabad High Court had followed the law laid down by a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Suresh Mahajan versus State of Madhya Pradesh in May.
In the Suresh Mahajan judgment, a three-judge Bench led by Justice (now retired) A.M. Khanwilkar had held that until the triple test/conditions were completed, no reservation for Backward Classes could be provided. In case such an exercise cannot be completed before the issue of the election programme, the seats, except those reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, must be notified for general category. Political parties “who claim to be the protagonist of participation of OBC in the governance of local bodies” could field Backward Class candidates in various constituencies, even in general category seats. The May judgment had made it clear that its directions would hold true for all States and union territories, and were not limited to the holding of local body elections in Madhya Pradesh and, in an earlier case, Maharashtra.
Triple test mandates a dedicated commission to collate contemporaneous empirical data on politically backward citizens and recommend reservation of seats for them in local bodies.
Justice Khanwilkar, in his judgment, had highlighted the constitutional mandate to conduct fresh elections to local bodies every five years.
“This constitutional mandate is inviolable. Neither the State Election Commission nor the State government or for that matter the State Legislature, including this court in exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, can countenance dispensation to the contrary,” the May judgment had underscored.
The judgment had ordered the Madhya Pradesh Election Commission to issue the election programme by directing that the seats, except those reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, must be notified for general category. The court had subsequently allowed the implementation of OBC reservation in Madhya Pradesh civic polls, but only after the dedicated Commission submitted a revised report complying with triple test conditions with a local body wise break-up of OBC seats.
The Allahabad High Court had applied the May 10 judgment in the case of Uttar Pradesh while directing the notification of the election programme without OBC reservation. The High Court had learnt that the Uttar Pradesh government had neither a dedicated commission in place nor complied with the triple test conditions despite the admitted fact that the terms of several local bodies were expiring by January 31, 2023. In fact, the State government notified the setting up of the Uttar Pradesh State Local Bodies Dedicated Backward Classes Commission on December 28, a day after the High Court judgment.
However, on January 4, a two-judge Bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud stayed the High Court direction to notify elections immediately while recording an assurance from Uttar Pradesh that the commission would “expeditiously”, by March 31, “ascertain the proportion of population of backward class of citizens in the total population, local body-wise”.
“The direction of the High Court, which mandates the holding of elections to local bodies in Uttar Pradesh without reserving seats for Backward Classes of citizens will result in a violation of the constitutional and statutory requirements of reservation for the OBCs. Democratisation of municipalities under Article 243T and the duty to provide representation are not competing values. Prima facie, the High Court is not correct in prioritising one over the other and directing the holding of elections without the provision of representation for the Backward Classes,” the Chief Justice Bench observed on January 4.