City elections may not happen on February 21st. On January 28th the Supreme Court directed the Karnataka state government to follow the ruling of the Division Bench of the High Court of Karnataka of December 8th. In that ruling, the High Court had asked the government to re-do the ward reservations list for Bengaluru in line with the 2001 census data for the Bangalore municipal area.
The State Election Commission (SEC) today told Citizen Matters that they have written to the Urban Development Department (UDD) asking for the new reservation list. “We are waiting for his (Principal Secretary of UDD) reply. Once we get his reply, the SEC will take a decision. If they give us a list tomorrow, then we can decide”, says D K Ravindranath, Secretary, SEC. He, however, refused to comment on whether the election day (February 21st) will be postponed. Ravindranath says that the election code of conduct is still in force and a decision will be taken once the UDD responds to their letter.
Speaking to Citizen Matters, D Thangaraj, Principal Secretary of the UDD says, “Now we will examine what needs to done next, frame new guidelines and do the reservations. Then we will have to call for objections also”. On asking how long this process will now take, he said that he wasn’t sure and that it is likely that the state government will approach the High Court seeking time. “Last time the Advocate General had asked for two months time, the Court said you don’t need so much time. I can’t say for sure. But it is likely that we will go to the High Court to ask for time”.
About the letter that the SEC sent to the UDD, Thangaraj says, “I will reply to it.” He added that the next step will be decided by Monday.
We had issued new guidelines, says UDD
In passing its order on January 28th, the Supreme Court cited a key memo filed by the state government’s UDD with the High Court Division Bench at its hearing on December 7th, agreeing to redo ward reservations. At that hearing the state government submitted that if the High Court was going to quash its guidelines and reservation list, it would re-do the reservations list within two weeks. Accordingly, on December 8th, in its order, the High Court had given two weeks time.
The High Court had also clearly stated that it was not interfering with the election schedule and had asked the SEC to continue with its plans to hold the elections on February 21st 2010.
Thangaraj says that based on this very memo, they had prepared new guidelines and issued it in a gazette notification. “But then later it (the case) went (on appeal) to the Supreme Court which put a stay on the Division Bench ruling. So then we withdrew these new guidelines”.
Here, Thangaraj is referring to citizens (one R Vasudha and others) who challenged the Division Bench ruling in the Supreme Court. The apex court settled this on January 28th, upholding the High Court Division Bench’s order, i.e. asking the state government to redo the reservations list. The Supreme Court justices cited the fact the state government had not challenged the Division Bench order, in effect indicating that they had accepted it.
The Principal Secretary also confirmed to Citizen Matters that these ‘new’ guidelines that were prepared after the Division Bench ruling was done based on ward-wise SC/ST population.
State government overrules KMC Act
The state government had notified the ward reservation list for the 198 seats of the BBMP council on November 30th 2009. The seats for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) were reserved on the basis of SC/ST populations in the 28 assembly constituencies within BBMP limits. To justify this, the state government had issued adhoc guidelines (in place of statutory rules it had to make under the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act – KMC Act) via a government order on July 21st, 2009.
A total of 17 petitioners from in and around Bangalore had challenged the state government’s guidelines and the reservations list in the High Court. They argued before the Division Bench of Justice V Gopala Gowda and Justice B Nagarathna that the reservations ought to have been done using SC/ST municipal area populations available from the 2001 census (even though it was only 100 wards at that time) and that this was mandatory as per the KMC Act.
The petitioners had also taken issue with the state government’s use of adhoc guidelines to determine the ward reservations. They cited sections from the governing law for this field, the KMC Act, according to which uniform rules have to be framed by the state government for reservation of seats for all municipalities in the state. These rules are approved using a process laid down in Section 421 of the KMC Act, none of which was followed by the state government, the petitioners had argued.
The state government had instead used its ‘fast-track’ method for the BBMP elections alone, using assembly constituency SC/ST data. The government’s lawyers had argued that the government had the power to pass these ‘custom’ guidelines and the KMC Act’s provision to make uniform rules (which would have statutory force statewide) for reservations was not mandatory.
The High Court after hearing these arguments on December 7th had not just agreed with the contentions of the petitioners, but had exposed the mess that the state governent had made of its own order issued on July 21st 2009. The justices had found that Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa had signed a file to authorise the order before the guidelines were in fact drafted! That in itself made the guidelines liable to be quashed, the justices had written.
"This important factual aspect would clearly show that the political executive without application of mind and without draft guidelines being placed for his (chief minister’s) perusal for making reservations of seats for the SC & ST castes in the BBMP has mechanically approved by putting his signature to Note.69 in the original file", wrote the justices.
Justice Gowda and Nagarathna then went on to write in their ruling that the court had to ‘compel the State to act in accordance with the provisions of the KMC Act’.
The ball is now back in the state government’s court. Going by all the developments so far, it will have to redo the reservations list, and that is what the SEC has asked for. ⊕