An all-party meeting convened by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday unanimously agreed that local bodies elections due next year could be “deferred for some time” until the State Backward Classes Commission (SBCC) completes the task of collecting empirical data for the purpose of providing OBC quotas.
Thackeray said that instructions should be given to the SBCC to collect and prepare data on OBCs in Maharashtra at the earliest, and that the advocate general could provide guidance in this regard.
“The empirical data should be prepared by the commission at the earliest. If the report (of the commission on empirical data) is delayed, then the proposed local bodies polls should be deferred for some time and all the parties agreed on it unanimously,” said Thackeray in a statement.
This was the second meeting of leaders from all parties called by Thackeray to resolve the issue of OBCs’ political reservation. In March this year, the Supreme Court read down the Maharashtra government’s OBC quota in local bodies elections, asking the government to fulfil certain conditions before bringing it back — set up a dedicated commission for collecting empirical data of OBCs; specify the proportion of reservation; and third, quota should not exceed the 50 per cent ceiling.
The issue of OBCs’ political reservation has become a hot potato in view of the elections due early next year to 10 municipal corporations and 25 zilla parishads, which are described as “mini Assembly” in the state’s political lexicon.
Various options were discussed in the meeting on providing reservation to OBCs in local bodies elections. All parties emphasized that the elections should not be held without OBC reservation.
“There is a hearing in the apex court on September 23 on the state government’s petition seeking OBC data from the Centre. If we get the data from the Centre, then the issue will be resolved,” NCP minister Chhagan Bhujbal told The Indian Express.
“Other options include providing reservation to the OBCs minus Schedule Caste (SC) and Schedule Tribe (ST) within the 50 per cent ceiling of the reservation, with or without empirical data. The Law and Judiciary is weighing its options on it. Else, we will have to wait for empirical data from the SBCC and then provide reservation and we have taken steps in that direction by setting up the commission. If there is a delay in getting reservation, then local bodies polls should be postponed,” he added.
State Congress president Nana Patole said that providing OBC reservation without empirical data would pose legal challenges for the state. “If the reservation is given within 50 per cent ceiling minus SC and ST, the OBC will have no reservation or negligible reservation in 5-6 districts. If it is challenged in court, we never know what might be the outcome and this may create trouble for the state government. So, having empirical data is a must for OBC reservation,” said Patole.
The Supreme Court, in its order on March 4, has asked the state government to fulfil the triple tests before notifying the seats reserved for the OBC category. It had also stated that such reservation, in any case, shall not exceed the aggregate of 50 per cent of total seats reserved in favour of SCs, STs and OBCs taken together. The government had filed a review petition in the SC but it was rejected by the apex court.
Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis demanded there should be no elections until OBC reservation is restored. “The triple test recommended by the court should have been strictly followed. The court had urged the government to constitute a state backward class commission, compile empirical data and establish the backwardness of OBCs. Unfortunately, in the last 15 months the Maha Vikas Aghadi did nothing to address these three aspects. It was after much hue and cry from the opposition that they finally constituted the SBCC. But other aspects remain a distant dream,” Fadnavis said.
With inputs from Shubhangi Khapre