Author: Aditi Prabhu
Student, School of Law Christ University, Bangalore
Court: Supreme Court of India
Citation: (2021) 6 SCC 73
Petitioner: Vikas Kishanrao Gawali
Respondent: State of Maharashtra
Date of Judgement: 4th March 2021
Bench: AM Khanwilkar,Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi, JJ.
Facts of the case
The writ petition was filed in furtherance of K. Krishna Murthy v. Union of India (2010) which, while upholding the validity of Articles 243-D(6) and 243-T(6) does not lay down a provision to decide the quantum of reservation for OBC and the same shall be decided by the State legislation by appointing dedicated commissions and conducting rigorous empirical investigations into the nature and implication of the backwardness.
The following writ petitions were filed to hold Section 12(2)(c) of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961 [also referred to as the 1961 Act], ultra vires to Articles 243-D, 243-T, including Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. Further, the petitions prayed that the notifications dated 27.7.2018 and 14.2.2020 be quashed and set aside, as they provided for reservations exceeding 50% in districts of Maharashtra, namely-Washim, Akola, Nagpur and Bhandara.
The dictum of the Consitution bench of K. Krishna Murthy v. Union of India(2010) urged the State legislations to relook the existing policy regarding the reservation in local self-government bodies in light of the judgement. As the legislature of the State of Maharashtra failed to relook the existing provisions after directions were issued to all states, several petitions challenging the validity of Section 12(2)(c) of the 1961 act and the notifications dated 27.7.2018 and 14.2.2020 had been filed before the Bombay High court, but the situation remained unchanged. Hence, these petitions were filed before the Supreme court and the Constitution bench of this court considered the said petition and combined it along with 3 other writ petitions.
Is Section 12(2)(c) of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961 ultra vires to Articles 243-D(6) and 243-T(6) of the Constitution of India?
Can the reservation for SC/ST/OBC in the concerned local bodies exceed the upper limit of 50 per cent of the total seats?
Law in contention
Section 12(2)(c) of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961 is as follows:
c) the seats to be reserved for persons belonging to the category of Backward Class of citizens shall be 27 per cent of the total number of seats to be filled in by election in a Zilla Parishad and such seats shall be allotted by rotation to different electoral divisions in a Zilla Parishad : [Provided that, in a Zilla Parishad comprising entirely the Scheduled Areas, the seats to be reserved for the persons belonging to the Backward Class of citizens shall be 27 per cent. of the seats remaining (if any), after reservation of the seats for the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes:
Provided further that, the reservation for the persons belonging to the Backward Class of citizens in a Zilla Parishad falling only partially in the Scheduled Areas shall be in accordance with the provisions of clause (c)] :
[Provided also that] [one-half of the total number of seats] so reserved shall be reserved for women belonging to the category of Backward Class of citizens;
The Court ruled that Section 12(2)(c) of the 1961 Act is an enabling provision and can only be invoked after meeting the "Triple test," which is to:
(1) establish a dedicated Commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of local bodies' backwardness within the State;
(2) specify the proportion of reservation required to be provided local body-wise in light of the Commission's recommendations in order to avoid discrimination, and
(3) In any situation, the seats designated for SC, ST, and OBCs combined cannot exceed 50% of the total number of seats.
The Court will not consider the respondents' rationale on reservations for OBCs if the Triple test is not met.
The Court discarded the challenge to the legality of Section 12(2)(c) of the 1961 Act and interpreted the wording "shall be" before the 27% as "may be" to imply that the OBC reservation might be up to 27% but shouldn't go over the maximum of 50% aggregate for SCs, STs, and OBCs.
The State Election Commission's challenged notifications regarding OBC reservations in local bodies, dated 27.7.2018 and 14.2.2020, as well as similar notifications it subsequently issued, are quashed, set aside, and declared void. The instructions given in response to the notification regarding the election results and the reserved seats for OBCs are declared void and non est in law, and the corresponding candidate(s) are required to vacate their seats.
The court while referring to the decision in K. Krishna Murthy v. Union of India(2010) observed that reservation for OBCs is merely a “statutory” dispensation unlike reservation for SC’s/STs, which is a “constitutional” dispensation and linked to the proportion of the population. Further, they laid down that with regards to the State legislations, providing reservations for OBCs shall not exceed the aggregate vertical reservation of 50 per cent for SC’s/STs/OBCs.
This judgement has covered up for the absence of Constitutional guidance with regards to the reservation in local bodies for OBCs from the dictum of K. Krishna Murthy v. Union of India (2010), which failed to provide guidance on the means to identify Backward classes nor provided for a provision for the quantum of reservation for local bodies, delegating the discretion to the ascertain so to the State Legislatures. The Constitution bench of this Court laid down the “triple test/conditions” which must be complied with by all States while reserving seats for OBCs subject to the aggregate vertical reservation of 50 per cent for SC’s/STs/OBCs. The judgement sets a precedent that would apply in full force to all elections by the State Election Commission with regard to reservation for OBCs and all similar provisions in other State enactment[s], as brought forth into notice by the State Election Commission, and makes sure State authorities take the required action that future elections for the concerned local bodies conform to the dictum in K. Krishna Murthy v. Union of India.