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Madras HC grants interim stay on Puducherry municipal elections over denial of OBC-ST reserved seats

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The Madras High Court has granted an interim stay against the Puducherry government’s decision to do away with OBC/ST reservation in elections to municipalities and commune panchayats in the Union Territory. The stay has been awarded till October 21.

The division bench of Justices R. Mahadevan and Abdul Quddhose passed the order on petitions filed by the Leader of the Opposition in Puducherry Legislative Assembly, a resident of Puducherry, and by an Independent MLA from Muthialpet.

The petitions challenged the orders of the Secretary, Local Administration Department, dated October 6, and the consequential notifications issued by the State Election Commission, Puducherry, by which backward classes and Scheduled Tribes were disentitled from contesting local body elections in the reserved ward.

The bench noted, “In such circumstances, we direct the respondents herein to keep in abeyance all further proceedings pursuant to the orders, which are impugned in these writ petitions, in the matter of conduct of election to the Municipalities and Commune Panchayats in Union Territory of Puducherry till 21.10.2021 while enabling the respondents to file their counter.”

In a direction issued by the first Bench of this Court, to rectify the anomaly, the State Election Commission has issued the impugned notifications/press release for conduct of elections to the five Municipalities and 10 Commune Panchayats in the Union Territory of Puducherry.

The Government of Puducherry, without any basis, had withdrawn and/or repealed the notifications issued on dated 07.03.2019 and thereby disentitling the backward classes and Scheduled Tribes from contesting the local body elections in the reserved ward.

The bench observed, “Curiously, in the order dated 05.10.2021, the (State) Election Commission was directed to rectify the anomalies existing in the notifications providing for reservation to backward classes and scheduled Tribe communities. There is nothing in the impugned orders to indicate that it was issued after a consultative process with the elected representatives.”

“All the elected representatives of the Puducherry Union Territory have given a joint representation dated 09.10.2021 to conduct the election to the local body only after rectifying the anomalies existing in the earlier notifications with reference to the reservation of the local body or municipal wards for Scheduled Tribes and backward class based on the existing population, which indicates that there is no consultative process made with the elected representatives before passing the impugned orders,” the court noted further.

Senior Advocate AR.L. Sundaresan, appearing for the MLA, submitted, “The elected representatives of the Union Territory of Puducherry reflected the mind and will of the people, however, before issuing the impugned election notifications, they were not consulted and the consultative process have been given a go-by. In fact, all the Members of the Legislative Assembly have signed and submitted a representation for giving effect to the order dated 05.10.2021 passed by the Division Bench of this Court and to rectify the anomaly.”

Senior Advocate P. Wilson, appearing for the Leader of the Opposition in Puducherry Legislative Assembly, contended that the Government of Puducherry, by notifications allotted 33.5% reservation for Backward Classes and 0.5% to Scheduled Tribes in local body elections in conformity with Articles 243 D (1) and (6) and 243 T (1) and (6) of The Constitution of India as well as Section 9 (8) and 11 (8) of The Puducherry Municipalities Act, 1973 and The Puducherry Village and Commune Panchayats Act, 1973.

The learned Senior counsel also invited the attention of this Court to Article 243D and E of the Constitution of India, which provides for reservation to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in every panchayat, to contend that the impugned orders are contrary to the constitutional mandate provided under the said provisions of the Constitution and therefore legally not sustainable.

In the present batch of petitions, the grievance of the petitioners in these writ petitions is common. It is stated by the petitioners that by virtue of the notifications passed by the respondents, the reservation meant for Backward Classes and Scheduled Tribes to contest to the five Municipalities and 10 Commune Panchayats in the Union Territory of Puducherry, has been taken away.

It is also the common contention urged on behalf of the petitioners that in the guise of implementing the order dated 05.10.2021 passed by the first Bench of this Court, the State Election Commission had withdrawn and/or repealed the notification issued on  07.03.2019 and published in the Extraordinary Gazette of Puducherry, providing for reservation, thereby depriving the reservation conferred to the Backward Classes and Scheduled Tribes to contest the election. According to the petitioners, such orders have been passed without any basis and hence legally untenable.

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