In a major relief to Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the Allahabad High Court's order quashing the OBC reservation in urban local body polls and allowed polls to take place without OBC reservation.
The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha ordered that the commission appointed by the UP government to look into the OBC reservation issue should file the report in three months instead of original timeline of six months.
Earlier, the Allahabad High Court had quashed the UP government's move to bring OBC reservation in local urban body polls. The HC had also directed the government to hold "immediate" elections without OBC reservations. The Adityanath government instead appointed a panel as per SC guidelines to bring in OBC reservation in urban local body polls.
What has Supreme Court ruled?
The SC took note of the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the UP government, that one of the directions issued by the Allahabad 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 SC permitted the UP 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 SC said, “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...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."
The SC 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 SC 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.
What's the OBC reservation issue?
Last month, the UP 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 included OBC reservation as well.
According to the draft notification, four mayoral seats —Aligarh, Mathura-Vrindavan, Meerut, 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 chairpersons' seats in the 200 municipal councils were reserved for OBCs, including 18 for OBC women. Among the chairpersons' seats in 545 nagar panchayats, 147 seats were reserved for OBC candidates, including 49 for OBC women.
Deciding on several petitions filed against the notification, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court annuled the notification and ordered that the UP government should notify the polls “immediately” as the term of several municipalities would end by January 31.
The Allahabad High Court's ruling is on the basis of UP government's notification not fulfilling "triple test" laid down by the Supreme Court.
The triple tests are three pre-conditions to provide such reservation. The Supreme Court set the following three conditions in the in the judgement of Vikas Kishanrao Gawali Vs. State of Maharashtra (2021):
(1) to set up a dedicated Commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness of the population in context of political participation
(2) to 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;
(3) in any case such reservation shall not exceed aggregate of 50 per cent of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together.
The SC in the judgement further said the reservation cannot be notified without meeting these conditions.
The relief in Supreme Court
Earlier, the UP 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. 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.
(With PTI inputs)