The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday reserved its orders in a batch of petitions seeking directions for timely holding of elections to municipal body Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) (Shivaraju v. the State of Karnataka).
The order was reserved by a Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty.
The Court heard three petitions seeking to direct the State government to conduct BBMP elections on time. The first one in this regard was moved by M Shivaraju. The State Election Commission (SEC) filed the second plea, while the third plea was moved by Ravi Jajan.
Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, appearing for the State, supported the recently enacted Karnataka Municipal Corporation Third Amendment Act, 2020, (Amendment Act).
The State Legislature had recently amended the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act to increase the number of wards from 198 to 225, pending the enactment of a separate law for the administration of the BBMP.
Navadgi argued that a validly constituted legislation can only be struck down on three limited grounds – for lacking legislative competence, for violating fundamental rights, and if found to be ‘manifestly arbitrary’. In the absence of such a finding on these limited grounds, the government cannot be directed to ignore a law validly enacted by the State Legislature, he added.
It was further submitted that Article 243-U (Duration of Municipalities, etc) of the Constitution cannot be read in isolation. The various provisions of Part IX-A must be read as a whole.
On a holistic reading of these provisions, Navadgi argued, it is clear that proper delimitation of wards is also an essential feature of Part IX-A of the Constitution.
On the prayer raised by the petitioner seeking timely conduct of BBMP elections, Navadgi clarified that the state government had no objection to the same. In fact, he said that it would wholeheartedly welcome all directions with respect to the timelines within which the new delimitation process and subsequent elections are to be held.
It was Navadgi's further contention that the the delay caused in holding elections was owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, which created extraneous circumstances.
Previously, Senior Advocate Prof Ravivarma Kumar, appearing for one of the petitioners, had argued before the Court that the state government’s attitude is stubborn, and it has become notorious for not holding elections on time.
He argued that the State Election Commission (SEC) had addressed nearly a dozen communications urging the government to perform the statutory duty of delimitation and reservation of wards from July 2018, to no avail. Therefore, the SEC was forced to approach the High Court seeking directions to the State, said Kumar.
Either the SEC or the petitioners have to approach the Court each time to compel the State to conduct elections, he argued. In 2015, there was a delay in holding BBMP elections, and in 2020, there is a delay in holding Grama Panchayats elections, Kumar elaborated.
Kumar further argued that the BBMP's term came to an end on September 10 this year. He also informed the Court that there is no provision in law to appoint an administrator.
Senior Advocate KN Phanindra, representing the SEC, pointed out that it may not be possible to hold elections to the BBMP for one year, as the process of delimitation to carve out 225 new wards will take six months. Thereafter, another six months would be required to fix reservation and to prepare a new voters list, he said.
The plea filed by Shivaraju submitted that as per Article 243-U (3), there is a mandatory obligation on the part of the State government to ensure that the elections to the BBMP are conducted before the expiry of such term, i.e. before September 10 in the present case.
Ideally, the steps to conduct elections ought to have been taken several months in advance so as to facilitate the conducting of elections before the said date, says the plea.
However, till date, absolutely no steps have been taken on the part of the State to prepare electoral rolls, to notify reservations, etc. to the 198 wards in Bengaluru. The respondents have wilfully disobeyed to fulfil their constitutional duty of conducting timely elections, the plea averred.
Plea filed in Karnataka High Court
On these grounds, the plea seeks to direct the State to conduct elections to the BBMP in accordance with Article 243-U and Section 8 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976.
This apart, the plea also challenged the Amendment Act as it seeks to increase the number of wards to 225.
[Read plea here]