Why do courts continue to overturn OBC reservations in local elections?

The Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow bench quashed the state government’s draught notification on urban local body elections and ordered that the elections be held without reservation for OBCs.

Precursor to the news

  • The Uttar Pradesh government had issued a draught notification for Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservations in urban local body elections.
  • Why did the HC overturn the draught?
  • The decision follows PILs filed against the state’s OBC reservation draught.
  • It was alleged that it was prepared without adhering to the Supreme Court’s “triple test” formula.
  • The Court ruled that OBC reservation in local body elections cannot be provided until the “triple test” conditions are met.

The Triple Test formula

  • In the K. Krishnamurthy (Dr.) v. Union of India (2010) decision, a five-judge Constitution Bench stated that barriers to political participation are not the same as barriers to education and employment.
  • The Supreme Court established a three-tiered test, also known as the triple test, when deciding on the legality of OBC reservations in Maharashtra local body elections in March 2021.

This is something that State governments have to follow to provide reservations-

  • Step 1: States must establish a dedicated commission to investigate local government backwardness.
  • Step 2: Using the commission’s data, they must determine the size of the quota for communities.
  • Step 3: When combined with the quotas for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, these reservations cannot exceed 50% of the total seats in the local body.

What did the court notice this time?

  • Reservation for OBCs in local body elections without an empirical basis is no longer legal.
  • The recent order in RR Wagh v. State of Maharashtra & others requires that the principles established by the Supreme Court for providing reservation to OBCs in local bodies be strictly followed throughout the country.

Major takeaways of K. Krishnamurthy Case

  • In this case, the Supreme Court interpreted Articles 243D(6) and 243T(6), which allow for the reservation of backward classes in local bodies through legislative enactment.
  • It was held that barriers to political participation are not the same as barriers to education and employment.
  • However, as mandated by the aforementioned conditions, a reservation may be desirable for creating a level playing field.
  • The preceding articles provide a separate constitutional basis for reservation, as opposed to what is envisioned in Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4), which form the basis for reservation in education and employment.

Acceptance of the Krishnamurthy Decision

  • The Indian political class is typically indifferent to the law declared by the courts to be contrary to the enacted law.
  • The 2010 decision was not implemented, and the constitutionality of the enacted reservation was questioned.
  • This resulted in the 2021 decision of a three-judge Supreme Court Bench.

What about the remaining states?

  • Courts in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh also set aside OBC reservations in local bodies in 2021 on similar grounds.
  • Earlier this year, the Karnataka and Patna high courts reserved seats for OBCs in municipal elections in Bengaluru and Bihar.
  • However, in May of this year, the Supreme Court allowed local body elections with OBC reservation in Madhya Pradesh after it demonstrated compliance with the triple test formula.
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