Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Supreme Court upholds OBC quota in panchayat elections

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the validity of reservation for SCs, STs, women and backward classes (OBCs) in panchayat elections but said quota in local self-government should be for a much shorter period than that for jobs and admissions to educational institutions.

It also upheld reservation of the posts of chairperson of panchayats in favour of SC, ST, women and OBC candidates in rotation.However, in reserving seats in panchayat elections for SC, ST and OBC candidates, the quantum of quota cannot breach the 50% limit, ruled a five-judge constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices R V Raveendran, D K Jain, P Sathasivam and J M Panchal.
“The upper ceiling of 50% vertical reservation in favour of SC/ST/OBCs should not be breached in the context of local self-government. Exceptions can only be made in order to safeguard the interests of STs in the matter of their representation in panchayats located in scheduled areas,” said the CJI, who authored the 70-page unanimous judgment.
Though the apex court upheld the reservation in local selfgovernment, it did sound a caution for the legislature. “The nature and purpose of reservation in the context of local self-government is considerably different from that of higher education and public employment,” it said. Holding it to be distinct from the reservation scheme practised in jobs and educational institutions, the Bench said the same logic could not be applied while furthering quota in local self-government.
“Even when made, they need not be for a period corresponding to the period of reservation for the purposes of Articles 15(4) and (16(4), but can be much shorter,” the apex court said.
In the absence of empirical data about the OBC population, the constitution Bench expressed its inability to decide whether the quantum of reservation for backward classes in local self-government was valid or not.“The onus is on the executive to conduct a rigorous investigation into the patterns of backwardness that act as barriers to political participation which are indeed quite different from the patterns of disadvantages in the matters of access to education and employment,” the Bench said.

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