By the book: On OBC quota in M.P. local body polls

Reservations should serve a development purpose and not turn into a weapon of divisiveness

May 20, 2022 12:20 am | Updated 09:37 am IST

The Supreme Court has allowed Madhya Pradesh to implement 14% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and notify the elections for nearly 23,263 local bodies within two weeks. The Court had on May 10 ordered the State to proceed with the elections without OBC quotas. The Court has since then reassured itself that the State has met the ‘triple test’ criteria it had established in 2010 for OBC reservation in local bodies — a commission that undertook contemporaneous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness in the context of local bodies, break-up of the reservation local body-wise, and adherence to the 50% ceiling on quotas. Madhya Pradesh had already provided for reservation for women besides Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and its proposed quota for OBCs is 14%, to keep the aggregate within the 50% ceiling. The State has convinced the Court that it had indeed met the triple test, but the validity and accuracy of the commission report remain open to further judicial scrutiny. The Madhya Pradesh government and the Bharatiya Janata Party have welcomed the order which they publicise as their success; the Opposition Congress has said OBCs deserve 27% reservation, and blames the BJP government for its failure to impress upon the Court, on the quantum.

Madhya Pradesh and Odisha are also facing judicial scrutiny of their plans for OBC reservation in local bodies, and this remains a controversial question on which the law is still evolving and public opinion is fractious. The Court has held that the criteria for reservation in job and education, which is social and educational backwardness, need not be applied for reservation in local bodies. Backwardness to be established for political reservation can be of a different nature, it had held. OBCs collectively form more than half the population of India and many communities want to be included in the category. The politics of the country is largely litigated among this segment, and suggestions and demands are raised on a regular basis. There is demand for removing the 50% ceiling on quotas, a caste-based census that the Centre is opposing but clamour for which is growing, and reservation in the private sector. While quotas have proven to be an effective instrument of empowerment and justice, competitive politics around them often leads to a paralysis of politics and governance. Making the reservation regime fair, objective, and empirical is a major governance challenge, and the Court’s attempts in that direction is welcome. Political parties and governments must act in tandem with the judiciary so that reservation programmes do not turn divisive but serve a development purpose.

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