The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court that it will not proceed with the delimitation of wards for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections until the next hearing of the plea challenging the reduction of councillors in the civic body.
The Bombay High Court was hearing a plea filed by ex-BMC councillor Raju Pednekar challenging an Act passed by the Eknath Shinde-led government reducing the number of directly elected councillors in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation from 236 to 227. (File photo)
By Vidya : The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court that it will not proceed with the delimitation of wards for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections until the next hearing of the plea challenging the reduction of councillors in the civic body.
A plea was filed by ex-BMC councillor Raju Pednekar through advocates Nazneen Ichhaporia and Sunny Jain challenging an Act passed by the Eknath Shinde-led government reducing the number of directly elected councillors in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) from 236 to 227.
On Wednesday, the high court was hearing petitions challenging an ordinance and then the Act brought in by the Maharashtra government on the issue. Advocate Vikram Nankani, appearing for the state government, said there were multiple petitions filed in the Supreme Court, which also challenged the Maharashtra government’s Act to reduce the number of councillors in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
Advocate Aspi Chinoy, appearing for the petitioner, stated that the ordinance had not been challenged before the Supreme Court. Chinoy pointed out that the present plea had been filed only after the Supreme Court specifically issued directions that the issue be challenged before the high court.
He pointed to a circular issued by the state on November 22, seeking immediate determination of the composition of wards for the upcoming general elections of civic bodies.
After the bench of Justices SV Gangapurwala and AS Doctor directed the state to say if status quo on the issue would be maintained, Nankani said the state will not proceed with the delimitation process till the next date of hearing on December 20.
WHAT THE STATE ELECTION COMMISSION SAID
The State Election Commission (SEC) in their affidavit said they had to scrap all the work they had done and restart the process as per the increased seats as the last government in the state had increased the number of councillors. The election commission completed the delimitation and reservation process as per an ordinance of November 30, 2021, whereby the seats were increased from 227 to 236.
Post an amendment to the Mumbai Municipal Act in March 2022, the delimitation powers of the SEC were withdrawn and that annulled all the election processes conducted so far. When the amendment was challenged before the Supreme Court, it directed the election body to proceed with overdue elections of the 2,486 local bodies which included the BMC elections, the affidavit pointed out. In view of this, the SEC began its delimitation process and released a voter list. After the ordinance under challenge was released, it again annulled the processes undertaken by the SEC till date. Hence, all ongoing work had to be stopped again.
WHAT THE MAHA GOVT SAID
The state in its affidavit said that the petition filed over the delimitation of wards “has been filed with ulterior motives which not only is wastage of precious judicial time but also of the government machinery.” The state said that until and unless there is a census done, the power to delimit wards cannot be exercised and therefore, there can be no amendment to the Mumbai Municipal Act on the basis of the census of 2011. The state said that “the power…for increasing the number of councillors is not available for the present elections scheduled in the year 2022.”
The state has also pointed out that petitions over the same issue are pending before the Supreme Court as well. The state said in August, the apex court directed all the parties to maintain status quo. The order will be in force till November 28. The state has thus requested the high court to not intervene in the issue.
WHAT PETITIONERS SAID
Challenging the ordinance and then the Act passed between August and September 2022 by the Maharashtra government, former councillors of Mumbai approached the Bombay High Court.
In 2021, by an amendment in the ordinance, the number of seats were increased from 227 to 236. The same was challenged before the Bombay High Court. The high court had upheld the validity of the ordinance noting that the number of directly elected municipal councillors was proportionate to the increase in population based on the 2011 Census.
Thereafter, there was a change of government in Maharashtra and the number of councillors was reduced from 236 to 227 again. The reason provided for annulment of the increase in the demarcation of the wards was that the 2021 census had not been undertaken and therefore the increase in wards is not sustainable.
Dec 1, 2022