Wednesday, May 12, 2010

SC upholds quota in local bodies

Supreme Court upholds quota in local bodies

J.Venkatesan

Also upholds Articles 243 D (4) and 243 T (4) reserving chairperson posts


The nature and purpose of quota here is different from education, employment

Reservation here is a measure of protective discrimination


New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the constitutional validity of Articles 243 D (6) and T (6), providing for reservation of seats in any panchayat or offices of Chairpersons in panchayats and municipalities in favour of backward classes.

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 also upheld Articles 243 D (4) and 243 T (4) reserving chairpersons' posts in local bodies, irrespective of whether the beneficiaries are SCs, STs and women and even if it is a single post. These Articles were inserted by way of Constitution 73 {+r} {+d} and 74 {+t} {+h} Amendments. The Bench disposed of appeals challenging these amendments as also the Karnataka law in this regard.

Writing the judgment, the CJI said, "The nature and purpose of reservation in the context of local self-government is considerably different from that of higher education and public employment. In this sense, Articles 243-D and Article 243-T form a distinct and independent constitutional basis for affirmative action and the principles that have been evolved in relation to the reservation policies enabled by Articles 15(4) and 16(4) cannot be readily applied in the context of local self-government."

The Bench, however, made it clear that the ceiling of 50 per cent 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 Scheduled Tribes in the matter of their representation in panchayats located in the Scheduled Areas."

The Bench said, "These chairperson posts cannot be equated with solitary posts in the context of public employment." It held that Articles 243-D (6) and T (6) "are constitutionally valid since they are in the nature of provisions which merely enable State Legislature to reserve seats and chairperson posts in favour of backward classes."

The Bench said, "As we have considered and decided only the constitutional validity of Articles 243-D(6) and 243-T(6), it will be open to the petitioners or any aggrieved party to challenge any State legislation enacted in pursuance of the said constitutional provisions before the High Court."

On the contention that the 'creamy layer' should be excluded, the Bench said, "there cannot be an exclusion of the 'creamy layer' in the context of political representation. There are bound to be disparities in socio-economic status of persons within the groups that are the intended beneficiaries of reservation policies."

The Bench noted that though exclusion of the 'creamy layer' might be feasible as well as desirable in the context of reservation for education and employment, the same principle could not be extended to the context of local self government. "It is quite likely that such persons may be better equipped to represent and protect the interests of their respective communities."

On the argument that reservation of chairperson posts was akin to reserving the posts of Chief Minister and Prime Minister, the Bench said, the office of chairperson in panchayats and municipalities were reserved as a measure of protective discrimination, so as to enable weaker sections to assert their voice against entrenched interests at the local level.

Backwardness

The Bench said social and economic backwardness did not necessarily coincide with political backwardness. "In this respect, State governments are well advised to configure their reservation policies, wherein the beneficiaries under Articles 243 D (6) and T (6) need not necessarily be co terminus with the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs) [for the purpose of Article 15 (4)] or even Backward classes [for the purpose of Article 16 (4)]."

The Bench said, "It would be safe to say that not all of the groups which have been given reservation benefits in the domain of education and employment need reservation in the sphere of local self government. This is because the barriers to political participation are not all the same character as barriers that limit access to education and employment. This calls for some fresh thinking and policymaking with regard to reservation in local self government."

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