When T.N. attempted quota for BCs in local bodies

An ordinance was promulgated by the government headed by Jayalalithaa providing a 50% quota for the BCs. It was struck down by the Madras High Court in 1996

Updated - July 15, 2022 05:07 pm IST

Published - July 15, 2022 12:59 am IST

Unrealised goal:To this day, polls to the rural local bodiesare held without any quota for the BCs.

Unrealised goal:To this day, polls to the rural local bodiesare held without any quota for the BCs. | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

States like Maharashtra are seeking to create reservation in the local bodies for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). However, Tamil Nadu made an attempt more than 25 years ago to implement a quota for the BCs in the rural local bodies.

After the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution came into effect during April-June 1993, States were required to hold elections to rural and urban local bodies. For one reason or the other, in Tamil Nadu, the elections were getting delayed and pressure was increasing on the AIADMK government to hold the elections.

It was at this juncture that the State government, headed by Jayalalithaa, came up with 50% reservation for the BCs in village panchayats, panchayat unions and district panchayats. The principle of reservation was to apply not only to the wards at each level but also to the offices of heads of the three rural local bodies.

An ordinance was promulgated in July 1995. The reason cited was that the government planned to hold the elections in October that year before which the Assembly was not likely to meet and consider and adopt the Bills introduced in the Budget session of 1995, according to the material available with The Hindu Archives. When the Assembly met in November that year, no elections took place for the local bodies by then.

During the debate on the Bills, which were pending for adoption, M. Sundaradas, Vilavancode MLA of the Congress, had termed the move unnecessary and argued that even in the normal course, those who could get elected would be from the BCs as 85% of the State population was constituted by the BCs. G. Palanisamy of the CPI had cited some places in his constituency of Thiruthuraipoondi where wards had been reserved for the BCs and the population was almost entirely Scheduled Castes. The charge levelled by the Opposition then was that the reservation was announced to stall the elections. But the government denied it.

Expectedly, the Bills were challenged in the Madras High Court, which, in April 1996, held them unconstitutional. The court pointed out that in the absence of any figures of the population of the BCs in each village, the reservation of seats and identification and rotation of wards were impossible. The proposed or published reservation of offices at all levels in panchayats were contrary to the statutory rules and stipulations, and consequently the notifications were illegal and ab initio void and unenforceable. The court’s ruling came at a time when the State was in the midst of the Assembly election.

Two weeks after the DMK returned to power in May 1996, the government decided to conduct the local bodies elections without reservation for the BCs, a situation which continues even today.

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