Wednesday, the Supreme Court halted the Allahabad High Court’s December 27 directive to the Uttar Pradesh Election Commission to proceed with urban local body elections without quotas for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The High Court issued the instruction in light of the fact that the state administration had not met the triple test criterion imposed by the highest court for such reservations.
A bench of the Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justice P.S. Narasimha heard the state’s appeal against the High Court’s order. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta stated that efforts will be made to ensure that the UP State Local Bodies Dedicated Backward Classes Commission, which was established to complete the necessary exercise to meet the triple test, completes its task within three months.
The Supreme Court stated that the High Court’s directive “requiring the holding of elections to local governments in Uttar Pradesh without reserving seats for Backward Classes residents will violate the constitutional and legislative requirements of reservation for OBCs.”
“Democratisation of municipalities pursuant to Article 243T and the obligation to provide representation are not at odds with one another. At first glance, the High Court’s directive to hold elections without providing representation for the Backward Classes is incorrect. Under Article 243T, democratising the municipalities and ensuring true representation in the makeup of municipalities are both constitutional requirements. “When a constitutional court is asked to evaluate the choices of the State in this context, it must guarantee that both of these values are given full effect so that the truly representative and lively local bodies envisaged in Article IXA of the Constitution can be realised,” it stated.
In response to the High Court’s directive, the government of Uttar Pradesh created a five-member panel, led by Justice Ram Avtar Singh (ret. ), to examine the entire spectrum of issues pertaining to the provision of reservation to OBCs in these elections.
“The SG submits that despite the six-month term of the newly created commission, every effort will be made to ensure that the exercise is finished as quickly as feasible, on or before March 31, 2023,” the ruling stated.
Consequently, elections will not take place until the commission has completed its work.
Noting that the terms of some urban local bodies have already expired and others will expire by the end of this month, the bench, in accordance with the High Court’s directives, permitted the state government to delegate financial powers to a three-member administrative body headed by the District Magistrate, which will run these bodies in the interim.
“For the purpose of ensuring that the administrative work of the local bodies is not impeded, the government would be free to issue a notification for the delegation or, in appropriate cases, the discharge of its financial powers,” the apex court said, adding that this would be “subject to the proviso that the administrative authority shall take no major policy decisions.”
The triple test requires the state to: (1) establish a commission to conduct rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of backwardness qua local bodies, within the state; (2) specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body wise in light of recommendations of the commission, so as not to fall foul of overbreadth; and (3) in any case, the such reservation shall not exceed aggregate of fifty percent of the total seats reserved in fa.
The Supreme Court panel observed that if elections are held without OBC reservation, one sector of the population will be unrepresented.
The court also voiced worry over the constitutional void that would result if the elections were not held on time prior to the expiration of the current local bodies’ terms, and asked if the exercise could be finished in roughly a month and a preliminary report provided.
Mehta noted that the High Court had stated in its order that “in the event that the term of a municipal body expires, until the formation of the elected body, the affairs of such municipal body shall be managed by a three-member committee headed by the District Magistrate and including the executive officer/chief executive officer/municipal commissioner.” The third member is a district officer selected by the District Magistrate.”
This arrangement can continue while the Commission determines political backwardness, he continued.