The Madras High Court on Monday ordered a stay on the poll process concerning the Puducherry local body elections in the wake of petitions challenging the withdrawal of reservations for Backward Classes (BC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the latest notifications (R Siva v. Union Territory of Puducherry and ors).
A vacation Bench of Justices R Mahadevan and Abdul Quddhose noted that the government of Puducherry had, without any basis, withdrawn the certain 2019 notifications thereby, disentitling BC and ST candidates from contesting the local body elections in reserved wards.
"It is not clear as to what prompted the Government to withdraw reservations provided in the notifications issued in GO Ms. Nos. 47 and 48 dated March 7, 2019," the Court said.
Under challenge were notifications issued on October 6, 2021, whereby the Puducherry local body elections were rescheduled to be held on three dates in November.
As per the petitioners, by the challenged notifications, the reservation meant for Backward Classes and Scheduled Tribes to contest in five municipalities and ten commune panchayats in Puducherry were taken away.
These notifications were issued after an October 5 order passed by the High Court Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu.
By this order, the Court had allowed the withdrawal of an earlier notification concerning the Puducherry local body elections which were, at that point of time, slated to be conducted this month. The First Bench was dealing with a petition alleging that there were anomalies when it came to reservation for Scheduled Caste (SC) candidates and women.
On October 5, the First Bench had allowed renotification of the Puducherry local body elections after rectifying the anomalies noticed when it came to reservation.
"Curiously, in the order dated 05.10.2021, the Election Commission was directed to rectify the anomalies exist in the notifications providing for reservation to backward classes and scheduled Tribe communities," the Bench of Justices Mahadevan and Quddhose noted on Monday.
The order of stay was issued by the Bench after also noting that there was nothing to indicate that the challenged notifications were issued after a consultative process with elected representatives.
The Bench recounted that on October 9, a joint representation was given by elected representatives in Puducherry to conduct the local body polls only after rectifying anomalies noted when it came to reservation for ST and BC candidates.
This means that there was no consultative process made with the elected representatives before passing the challenged order, the Court said.
"Furthermore, the orders are not in consonance with Section 9 (8) and 11 (8) of The Puducherry Municipalities Act, 1973 and The Puducherry Village and Commune Panchayats Act, 1973 as well as the constitutional mandate contained under Article 243-O of the Constitution of India," the Court added.
The High Court, therefore, directed the respondent-authorities to "keep in abeyance all further proceedings pursuant to the orders, which are impugned in these writ petitions, in the matter of conduct of election to the Municipalities and Commune Panchayats in Union Territory of Puducherry till 21.10.2021 enabling the respondents to file their counter."
The matter has been posted before the First Bench of the High Court to be taken up on October 21.
Senior Advocates P Wilson and AR L Sunderesan led the arguments for the petitioners. The petitioners include the Leader of Opposition in the Puducherry Legislative Assembly and DMK member, R Siva, J Prakash Kumar, an independent Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and V Velmurugan, a resident of Puducherry.
Advocate Chandrasekaran appeared for the State Election Commission, Puducherry whereas Government Pleader Mala appeared for the Puducherry government.