Provisions for OBC quota in local bodies can’t breach 50% limit

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New Delhi, March 4 : The Supreme Court said on Thursday that provisions for reservations of seats for OBCs in local bodies cannot breach the 50 per cent limit.

A bench comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi said that reservation for OBCs is only a “statutory” dispensation to be provided by the state legislations, unlike the “constitutional” reservation for SCs/STs, which is linked to the proportion of population.

“As regards the state legislations providing for reservation of seats in respect of OBCs, it must ensure that in no case the aggregate vertical reservation in respect of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together should exceed 50 per cent of the seats in the concerned local bodies,” the bench said.

The top court quashed the results of OBC reserved seats in local bodies in the districts of Washim, Akola, Nagpur and Bhandara in Maharashtra. The top court also directed the State Election Commission to take immediate steps to announce elections in respect of such vacated seats of the concerned local bodies, not later than two weeks from Thursday, to be filled by general/open category candidates for the remainder term of the panchayats/samitis.

The bench said the quantum of reservation for OBCs ought to be local body specific and be so provisioned to ensure that it does not exceed the quantitative limitation of 50 per cent (aggregate) of vertical reservation of seats for SCs/STs/OBCs taken together. The top court also read down provisions of the Maharasthra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961 to hold that reservation for OBCs may be up to 27 per cent but subject to the outer limit of 50 per cent aggregate.

The bench said besides this inviolable quantitative limitation, the state authorities are obliged to fulfil other preconditions before reserving seats for OBCs in the local bodies.

“The foremost requirement is to collate adequate materials or documents that could help in identification of backward classes for the purpose of reservation by conducting a contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of backwardness in the concerned local bodies,” noted the bench.

The bench said in case constitutional reservation for SCs and STs were to consume the entire 50 per cent of seats in the local bodies and in some cases in scheduled area even beyond 50 per cent, the question of providing further reservation to OBCs would not arise at all.

To justify its decision in the matter, the top court cited the Constitution bench decision in the ‘K Krishna Murthy (Dr) and Ors v Union of India & Anr’ case of 2010.

The bench said the triple test conditions are required to be complied by the state before reserving seats in the local bodies for OBCs. The conditions are: Setting up a dedicated commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua local bodies; specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body wise in light of recommendations of the Commission; and, 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.