New Delhi: In a major relief to the Uttar Pradesh government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the Allahabad High Court order directing it to hold urban local body polls without reservation for the other backward classes (OBCs).
A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha also ordered that the committee appointed by the state government to decide issues related to grant of OBC quota for the local body polls will have to conclude the exercise within three months by March 31, 2023 instead of six months as stipulated earlier.
The bench took note of the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, that one of the directions issued by the high court with regard to the functioning of the local bodies under administrators after the expiry of the terms of the elected representatives can be allowed to operate.
The top court permitted the state government to appoint administrators to run the affairs of the local bodies after the expiry of the tenure of the elected representatives but said the administrators will not be empowered to take major policy decisions.
“The high court by impugned judgement dated … has directed (to hold elections without OBC reservation) …Pending further orders of this court, the operation of the above direction shall remain stayed,” the bench said in its order.
“In order to ensure for the purpose that the administrative work of the local bodies is not hampered, the government will be at liberty to issue a notification for the delegation to discharge the financial powers in consonance of the direction D’ (set out … in HC order) subject to the caveat that no major policy decisions shall be taken by the administrators.
At the outset, the bench considered submissions of the solicitor general that the state government has set up the Uttar Pradesh State Local Bodies Dedicated Backward Classes Commission in pursuance of the apex court judgements to decide the quota issue keeping in mind the political representation of different backward castes in local bodies.
“Since the tenure of some of the local bodies in the state of Uttar Pradesh has already expired or is expected to expire on or around January 31, 2023, it has been submitted on behalf of the petitioner (state) that the arrangement which has been envisaged in direction d’ of the impugned judgement of the high court may be embodied as an order of this court until fresh elections are held,” the apex court said and allowed the state’s request.
The bench also took note of the submission of the state government that though the tenure of the newly appointed commission is six months, an effort will be made to ensure the exercise gets over as expeditiously as possible on or before March 31.
The top court also issued notices to those who had moved the high court against the notification of the state government and listed the matter for hearing after three weeks.
Earlier, the state government had moved the top court with its appeal against the December 27 order of the high court, saying the high court cannot quash the December 5 draft notification which provided for reservation of seats in the urban civic body polls for other backward classes (OBCs) apart from those for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.
The appeal said the OBCs are a constitutionally protected section and the high court erred in quashing the draft notification.
After the high court’s order, the Uttar Pradesh government appointed a five-member commission for going into the entire gamut of issues for providing reservation to the OBCs in the urban local body polls.
The panel will be headed by Justice (Retd) Ram Avtar Singh. The four other members are retired Indian Administrative Service officers Chob Singh Verma and Mahendra Kumar, and former legal advisors to the state Santosh Kumar Viskarma and Brajesh Kumar Soni.
The Lucknow bench of the high court had ordered that the state government notify the polls “immediately” as the term of several municipalities would end by January 31, while annulling the December 5 draft notification.
The high court had directed the state election commission to hold the elections by January 31 after transferring the OBC seats in the draft notification to the general category.
The HC order had come on the pleas challenging the preparation of the OBC reservation draft without following the “triple test” formula prescribed by the Supreme Court.
The triple test requires setting up a commission to hold a “rigorous empirical inquiry” into the nature of the “backwardness” in the context of the local bodies, specifying the proportion of reservation based on the commission’s recommendations, and ensuring that it does not exceed the overall 50 per cent quota limit.
The high court had held the triple test condition formulated by the Supreme Court 11 years ago was mandatory.
“Until the triple test is completed in all respects by the state government, no reservation for Backward Class of citizens shall be provided,” the order had said.
It had said the term of the municipal bodies in the state has either ended or shall end by January 31, 2023.
Since the process of meeting the triple test is “arduous and is likely to take considerable time”, it directed the state government and the state election Commission to notify the elections “immediately” without the OBC quota.
On the reason for immediate notification of the elections, it cited Article 243U of the Constitution on holding elections before the term of a municipality expires.
“Thus to fortify the democratic character of governance of society, it is essential that the elections are held at the earliest which cannot wait,” the order said.
In its order, the HC had also set aside the state government’s December 12 notification that mentioned appointing a committee to administer municipal bodies whose terms were ending by January 31.
Instead, the court said the affairs of such municipal bodies shall be conducted by three-member committees headed by district magistrates till the elected municipalities come into being.
The committees will only carry out day-to-day functions and not take any major policy decision, the court had added.
Earlier this month, the state government issued a provisional list of reserved seats for mayors of 17 municipal corporations, chairpersons of 200 municipal councils and 545 nagar panchayats for the three-tier urban elections.
It had sought suggestions and objections to this draft within seven days.
According to the draft notification, four mayoral seats — Aligarh, Mathura-Vrindavan, Meerut and Prayagraj — were reserved for OBC candidates. Of these, the mayor’s posts in Aligarh and Mathura-Vrindavan were reserved for OBC women.
In addition, 54 seats for chairpersons in the 200 municipal councils were reserved for OBCs, including 18 for OBC women.
Among the seats for chairpersons in 545 nagar panchayats, 147 were reserved for OBC candidates, including 49 for OBC women.