Maha passes bills to postpone civic elections sans OBC quotas (Ld)

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In a major political development, the Maharashtra Legislature on Monday unanimously passed two bills to defer the upcoming elections to the civic and local bodies till the OBC quotas are restored in the state.

The two bills are the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, the Maharashtra Municipal Councils, Nagar Panchayats & Industrial Townships (Amendment) Bill 2022, and the Maharashtra Gram Panchayats Act, 1959, and the Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis (Amendment) Bill 2022.

Under these amendments, the Maharashtra State Election Commission (SEC)’s powers to delimit and fix the wards is proposed to be cancelled and the government shall be empowered to decide delimitation of wards and fix the number of members in these bodies.

The SEC will decide the poll schedules for the civic and local bodies elections in consultation with the state government.

With the new amendments, a majority of the civic bodies whose tenures are ending will be handed over to Administrators, who will govern till the elections are held.

The development came after the Supreme Court on March 3, rejected the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission’s interim report recommending restoration of the 27 per cent political reservations to the OBC communities, proving a setback to the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government of Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress.

The move, supported by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, assumes significance as 15 top civic bodies including BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), 25 Zilla Parishads, and 232 Municipal Councils were slated to go for elections shortly.

The bills are likely to get the Governor’s assent immediately considering the interests of the OBCs and since the ruling and Oppositoin have also jointly supported it.

With the state getting the powers to delimit and form wards, it will help it collect the empirical data on the political backwardness of OBCs that is mandatory to restore the quotas for the communities in the local bodies’ elections.

The process, already underway for municipal corporations and district councils, has already led to an increase in the number of wards due to the rise in populations in the past decade, and a similar exercise was carried out in adjoining Madhya Pradesh.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said last week that the local bodies elections shall be postponed by three months to enable complete the compilation of the empirical date in the format laid down by the SC, and till then, the local bodies shall be handed over to Administrators.

Ruling MVA leaders including NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase, and Shiv Sena’s Kishore Tiwari have welcomed the government move, saying they are committed from the beginning to ensure quotas for the OBCs.

However, the Aam Aadmi Party’s Mumbai Working President Ruben Mascarenhas slammed the MVA decision to curtail the SEC’s powers and termed it as a “dark hour” for Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s vision of a free and fair electoral democracy with equity in social development.

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