4 March 2022 8:54 AM GMT
On Friday, the Supreme Court issued notice in petition filed by R. Siva, the Opposition Leader in Puducherry Legislative Assembly assailing the Government Order and Election Commission Notification discontinuing reservations for Backward Classes and Scheduled Tribes in the Puducherry local body elections. Looking at the urgency in the matter, a Bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara...
On Friday, the Supreme Court issued notice in petition filed by R. Siva, the Opposition Leader in Puducherry Legislative Assembly assailing the Government Order and Election Commission Notification discontinuing reservations for Backward Classes and Scheduled Tribes in the Puducherry local body elections.
Looking at the urgency in the matter, a Bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai asked the Respondents to file the counter affidavit within two weeks. It stated -
"File your counter within two weeks. We will list it immediately and then we will decide it. This matter cannot wait."
The Bench noted that the petitioner had withdrawn the writ petitions filed before the Madras High Court with liberty to approach the Apex Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India stating that the Supreme Court was already seized of the matter pertaining to the expeditious completion of local polls in Puducherry. The Bench clarified that the issue before it was limited to the aspect of delimitation and issuance of notification and did not extend to reservation. It was of the opinion that the High Court could have decided the matter independently. However, in order to prevent any further delay in conducting local body elections in Puducherry, the Bench thought it fit to decide the issue of reservation as well instead of sending it back to the High Court.
The Bench enquired, "What is pending here?"
Senior Advocate, Mr. P. Wilson appearing for R. Shiva responded, "The contempt."
Demarcating the scope of the contempt petition and the issue before the Apex Court, the Bench stated -
"Contempt is with respect to delimitation and issuance of notification. You have raised a ground that notifications are bad because reservation is not being provided."
It asked the Senior Counsel -
"Why did you withdraw the petition and come to the Supreme Court?"
Mr. Wilson informed the Bench that the Counsels for the State Election Commission and the UT had informed the High Court that matter was pending before the Supreme Court.
The Bench reiterated -
"Why should we decide this issue? The matter pending here does not pertain to reservation. The issue before us was whether delimitation was done and whether elections are conducted by issuance of notification. They asked for time, time was given. We are not considering whether the delimitation exercise was proper, whether notification is correct, reservation should be given or not. Why do you get cases here like this?"
Again, Mr Wilson stated that submissions were made by the respondents that they were facing contempt before the Supreme Court.
The Bench noted -
"The Court by itself did not say, you said you will go to the Supreme Court."
Mr. Wilson sought liberty to go back to the High Court. At this point in time, the Bench remarked -
"You keep moving in circles and ultimately the elections will not be conducted."
Advocate, Mr. Aravindh S appearing for the UT informed the Bench that a Commission had been appointed to look into the delimitation aspect.
The Bench reckoned -
"From 2011 we are in 2022, now you appoint the Commission. We will consider it here itself, there is no point in sending it back."
It added -
"We don't appreciate this practice. Only because the elections will be dragged on if we send you to High Court…that is the reason we took it up."
Before the Madras High Court, the petitioner had contended that the procedure for ascertaining seats allotted to Scheduled Castes must be extended to the Backward Class as well. Otherwise, it was submitted that it would be a violation of Section 9(8) and 11(8) of the Puducherry Municipalities Act, 1973 and Puducherry Puducherry Village and Commune Panchayats Act, 1973. It was asserted that under Articles 243(D)(1) and 243(T)(1) of the Constitution, SC/ST reservation is mandatory in respect of election to Panchayats and Municipalities. The High Court also apprised that empirical data on Backward Classes was already available with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
It is pertinent to note that the Puducherry local body elections have not taken place since 2011. In 2018, the Puducherry Government was directed by the Apex Court to hold local body elections within four months. As the Government failed to do so even after two years, a contempt petition was filed. The Puducherry Government had informed the Court that the objections to the delimitation process were being heard. In April, 2021, the Supreme Court directed the Government to pass orders on delimitation within two months. At the request of Additional Solicitor General, Ms. Madhavi Divan the Court had granted four months' time after the delimitation process to conduct the polls.
Appearing before the Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai, on Friday, Ms. Divan submitted that the delimitation process was completed by 04.06.2021. She stated steps were taken and Government Orders were issued regarding the elections and 'the entire process was put into motion'. She further submitted -
"In October, 2021 two Writ Petitions filed claiming anomalies with respect to the rotation so far as SCs, SC women and women are concerned and another anomaly with respect to backward classes. Thereafter, interim orders were passed by Madras High Court. In light of this we were compelled to file an M.A. before the Supreme Court saying what is happening before the High Court…The first set of Writ petitions were disposed of by the High Court…vide order dated 05.10.2021. The Ld. ASG appearing for UT said that they would withdraw GOs issued in 2019. When they withdrew notification, we said we will withdraw the announcement of election and issue fresh notification. The UT rescinded the notifications on 07.10.2021 and thereafter we announced the notification afresh. After we announced the revised schedule for the elections on 08.10.2021, three more writ petitions were filed with grievance that there is no reservation for backward classes and STs."
[Case Title: R. Shiva v. UT of Puducherry W.P.(C) No. 54/2022]