Govt in a fix over conduct of panchayat elections

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Staff Reporter

Panaji

The Goa government is facing a dilemma over the Supreme Court’s ‘triple test’ order on reservation of wards for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) for the village panchayat polls due in June this year.  

In the pan-India judgment passed on May 10, 2022 in the case of Suresh Mahajan versus the State of Madhya Pradesh and Others, the apex court has said that “until the triple test formality is completed ‘in all respects’ by the state government, no reservation for OBCs can be provisioned; and if that exercise cannot be completed before the issue of election programme by the State Election Commission, the seats (except reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which is a constitutional requirement), the rest of the seats must be notified as for the General Category.”

With this order, the government is left with only two possible options, either to defer the panchayat polls for a period of six months and complete the triple test exercise for reservation of wards for OBCs or to go ahead with the elections without reserving even a single ward of the 186 village panchayats for the
OBC category.

The triple test formalities have been predicated by the top court in the order passed in the case of Vikas Kishanrao Gawali versus the State of Maharashtra and Others, dated
March 4, 2021.

According to the order, the requirements are “(1) to set up a dedicated Commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua local bodies, within the State; (2) to specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise in light of recommendations of the Commission, so as not to fall foul of overbreadth; and (3) 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.”

Goa already has a Commission of Backward Classes; however, questions are being raised on whether the government machinery will be able to complete the survey to collect data within six months? For triple test exercise, the government will have to notify the income limit to define “backwardness”.

The Supreme Court has asked states to ensure that the newly-elected body is installed in every local body before the expiry of the five-year term of the outgoing elected body and added that even in case of dissolution before the expiry of the five-year period, where an Administrator is required to be appointed by the state, that regime cannot be continued beyond six months.

Sources informed that the State Election Commission has provisionally completed the process of reservation of wards and is awaiting the government’s response on the court order.

“The government is cautious…people may challenge the government’s decision in court. Legal opinion is being sought by the government. The ruling party doesn’t want to upset the people belonging to OBCs. Parliamentary elections are also approaching,” the sources said.

It is pertinent to note that OBCs reportedly constitute 27% of the state’s total population. The sources said the government is expected to take the final call after discussing the same in the next state cabinet meeting.