The Supreme Court’s approval of the report on OBCs prepared by a dedicated commission headed by the former chief secretary, Jayant Banthia, has paved the way for elections to nearly 2,500 urban and local bodies in Maharashtra with OBC quota. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have announced that all upcoming elections to the urban and rural local bodies will be held with OBC quota. For the Shinde-Fadnavis government (Shiv Sena-BJP alliance), which will be pitted against the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, the NCP and Congress, winning the maximum seats and top posts will be the acid test.
The state government has, however, formally requested the State Election Commission (SEC) not to schedule elections to local bodies immediately, as many parts of Maharashtra have been affected by heavy rains and floods. These elections are expected to be conducted in October and November, as the ruling and opposition parties have also said that in the wake of the monsoon, it will be difficult for voters to come out in large numbers to cast their vote. Besides, the SEC would need two weeks to finish the quota process.
SEC Secretary Kiran Kurundkar told The Free Press Journal, “We will require two weeks’ time to complete the reservation process in respect of all those urban and rural local bodies where the delimitation/ ward formation process has already completed and finalised.” He said earlier that the SEC had, in accordance with the SC order, allocated quota to the SC, ST and women and draws had been conducted and finalised. However, now, lots will be drawn for allocation of seats to OBCs in terms of the dedicated commission’s report.
The commission has recommended that as the backward classes in Maharashtra are politically backward and deprived of representation in proportion to their population, and also in the decision-making process, they are required to be empowered by being given political representation in the local self-government bodies. The commission had suggested that the reservation for backward classes should be in proportion to their population in each local body, without affecting the statutory reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and subject to the overall reservation limit of 50 per cent.
The apex court accepted the commission’s findings and ruled that the upcoming urban and rural body polls will be held with OBC quota. This means that OBCs will not get a 27 per cent quota in every urban and rural local body but it will be commensurate with their population. Both the Shinde-Fadnavis government and the opposing NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena have hailed the order, saying that the OBCs have got justice.
As for the elections to the 271 gram panchayats in 62 talukas of Maharashtra, polling will be held as scheduled, on August 4, as the SC had already asked the SEC to stick with its poll plan. However, the SEC, which has stayed the poll process for 92 nagar parishads and four nagar panchayats slated to begin from July 20, will decide a future course of action after reading the apex court’s Wednesday ruling. Polls to these bodies were slated for August 18.
The SC’s ruling is important, as, in December 2021, it had stayed the 27 per cent OBC quota in urban and rural local bodies, citing this was in excess of the 50 per cent quota ceiling. The SC had repeatedly asked the state government to fulfil the triple test requirement, comprising the formation of a dedicated commission to examine backwardness and the extent of the OBC population in the local body, the compilation of empirical data on OBCs and political reservation not exceeding the 50 per cent quota limit.