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Maha: Elections in OBC Wards Suspended as SC Strikes Down Reservation Ordinance

SC had asked the State government to prove OBC reservations on three criteria. With less time in its hands, the MVA ruling coalition came up with an ordinance. The SC has now stuck down this ordinance which would affect OBC representation in Maharashtra's local bodies.
Maha: Elections in OBC Wards Suspended as SC Strikes Down Reservation Ordinance

Mumbai: On December 6, the Supreme Court struck down an ordinance promulgated by the Maharashtra government for 27% OBC reservation in the state's local bodies. The SC stuck it down saying that the OBC reservation shall be given only after proving the numbers for it. This decision has affected the 2 Zilla Parishad, 15 Panchayat Samiti (Tehsil body), 105 Municipal Council, and almost 4,000 Gram Panchayat elections, scheduled for December 21.

The State Election Commission has suspended the polls on OBC seats in these local bodies, as soon as the SC verdict was announced. This is going to be the big political challenge for the Mahavikas Aghadi (MVA) ruling coalition in Maharashtra.

As per the Indira Sahani case ruling, reservation in a state shall not pass the limits of 50%. With OBCs 27% reservation, total reserved seats were crossing the limits in some of the districts, after combining SC, ST and denotified and nomadic tribe (VJNT and NT) reservations.

While listening to petitions filed against the OBC quota back in February - March 2021, the SC has struck down the OBC reservation and asked the State government to conduct a “contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry” on social-economic backwards in Maharashtra. The State had asked the Central government to give empirical data available from the 2011 census. But the Central government has shown an inability to share the data.

Later, the State government turned to the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) on March 3. The ten members of this commission were decided on June 29. The commission asked the State government to give Rs 435 crore to conduct a statewide survey that would come up with empirical data. But, the State is yet to take a decision on this.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra is supposed to go for ‘mini-assembly’ local body polls by March 2022. The elections will be held in 105 municipal councils, 18 zilla parishads, 12 municipalities - which includes cities like Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nasik and Aurangabad. To safeguard political reservation of OBCs, the State government came up with the ordinance on September 15.

This ordinance was challenged in the SC and it was finally stuck down on December 6. "Now we will conduct the elections on December 21 as per the SC guidelines. There will be no polling in Wards that come under the OBC reservation category," said State Election Commission Chief Urvinder Pal Singh.

Meanwhile, the state's OBC minister Vijay Vadettiwar called the verdict a shock to OBCs of the state. "Central government does have ready empirical data. Had it been shared with us, the reservation OBCs could have been saved. But the Central government wants to play politics against MVA over rights of OBCs," said Vadettiwar.

OBC leader and senior minister Chhagan Bhujbal said that the State government will make all efforts to give reservations to OBCs. "We will read and analyse the SC order. We will do all possible things to save the OBC reservation. Some opposition leaders (BJP leaders) who are more worried about their party than the community have made this case worse by giving non-serious statements. People are watching it closely," said Bhujbal.

Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis said, "The SC ruling is unfortunate. I had said an all-party meeting that the ordinance would not stand legally unless it is backed by empirical data."

Meanwhile, BJP's tallest OBC leader Pankaja Munde has appealed to not politicise the issue. "This is a battle for the rights of OBCs. All should join hands and save the OBC reservation. This is not the time of politics," she said.

Yet, with the local body elections nearing, politics is inevitable on the OBC issue. OBCs have had reservations since 1994 in Maharashtra. This reservation is based on the 1931 census. The demand to conduct a caste-based census in 2021 is old and politically sensitive. The Maharashtra Assembly has passed a unanimous resolution in 2020 to conduct a caste-based census. But the Centre has not accepted this demand.

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