Tuesday, November 09, 2010

BJP government reduces OBC seats in Panchayat bodies

This is the story of the reduction in OBC seats in Panchayats I wrote about recently.
The BJP government in Karnataka has reduced OBC seats in rural local bodies
by 33%. This could mean that politically backward communities and minorities would have no place in the Panchayats.

A recent ordinance of the state government amends the Karnataka
Panchayat Raj Act and caps the reservation to various deprived
communities at 50 per cent. This means that half the seats are
available to general merit candidates. This, according to the
ordinance, will be achieved by keeping the reservation for SC/STs in
tact and reducing the number of seats reserved for OBCs. Many backward
classes leaders have opposed this move as they say it would affect the
balance of political power in the villages.

This will impact the political system at the grass root levels. The
order will reduce the total number of OBC seats in Zilla Panchayats to
223 from 334. This is an average reduction of 33 per cent. The new
seat matrix has been published on the state election commission’s
website www.karsec.gov.in.

The worst affected district is Raichur where the reduction will be 84
per cent. The ZP in this district has 35 seats. The reduction of OBC
seats there would be reduced to two from 12.

In Chitradurga, the reduction in seats would be to three from 11 (75
%). Similarly, in Bidar it would be three from 10 (73 %), Bellary
-three from 10(70 %), Kolar -seven from 18 (62%), Chamaraj Nagar
-three from seven (58%), Mysore-seven from 15(54%), Davanagere five
from 11(55%), Bangalore urban five from nine (55 %).

Districts that will not have any changes are Dakshina Kannada, Udupi,
Mandya, Dharwad and Uttara Kannada.

Taluk Panchayats will also witness significant changes. As many as
nine TPs will not have any seats reserved for OBC or minority members.
In effect, this might mean that these bodies will have no members from
these communities as OBCs and minorities find it difficult to win from
general seats. Interestingly, details of these nine taluk Panchayats
are not available on the state election commission website.

Backward class leaders have criticized the order. ``It is fatal to the
welfare of the backward classes. It destroys the concept of
proportional representation to backward classes. It is
unconstitutional and should be withdrawn,’’ feels Constitutional
expert and former chairman of the backward classes commission
Raviverma Kumar.

According to him, the 50 per cent cap on reservation fixed by the
Supreme Court is only for the purpose of education and employment and
not political reservation.

``In fact in the M Vijayan vs State of Tamilnadu case, the Supreme
Court has allowed Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to extend the amount of
reservation to beyond 50 per cent if population data justified such an
It has also observed that the eligibility criteria for seeking
political reservation are different from those needed for seeking
reservation in education and employment. Therefore, reservation quota
for OBCs should not be reduced,’’ he said.

``Reducing the quantum of reservation for backward classes amounts to
supporting the politically overrepresented castes. Over the years,
Lingayats and Vokkaligas who together form about 25 per cent of the
state’s population, have been winning over 50 per cent seats in the
state assembly. The situation was similar in the Panchayat bodies till
1993. They got due representation in these bodies only because of
reserved seats. If these seats are reserved, OBCs and minorities will
be kept out of the local self government system for ever, cautions
Congress MLC Khaji Arshed Ali. He and some other Congress leaders are
planning to challenge the government order in the High Court.

JD(S) leader and former law minister M C Nanaiah questioned the wisdom
of the government in enacting an ordinance to make such an important
change in the reservation policy. Why is the government shy of
discussing the issue? It is strange that the government brings in a
bill when it raises women’s reservation to 50 per cent but hides
behind an ordinance when cuts down OBC seats, he said.

Backward classes leader B Narayan says BJP leaders have taken this
step with malafide intentions. ``The Mandal judgment fixed the upper
limit of reservations at 50 per cent 15 years ago. If the BJP
government is saying that it is implementing it now, it is just an
excuse. Reducing political opportunities for the OBCs in favour of the
upper castes is nothing short of casteism. It should be opposed,’’ he

When contacted, Panchayat raj and rural development minister Jagadish
Shettar ruled out withdrawing the ordinance or the order. He said that
the matrix was fixed according to the Supreme Court order in the
Mandal case and was legal and valid.

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