Dr. K. Krishna Murthy v Union Of India
The contentious issues in the case were the following:
(i). Whether Article 243-D(6) and Article 243-T(6) were constitutionally valid since they enabled reservations in favour of backward classes for the purpose of occupying seats and chairperson positions in Panchayats and Municipalities respectively?
(ii). Whether Article 243-D(4) and Article 243-T(4) were constitutionally valid since they enabled the reservation of chairperson positions in Panchayats and Municipalities respectively?
The petitioner’s arguments was directed towards the following two aspects:
Firstly, objections were raised against Art. 243-D(6) and Art. 243-T(6) since they enabled reservations of seats and chairperson posts in favour of backward classes, without any guidance on how to identify these beneficiaries and the quantum of reservations.
Secondly, it was argued that the reservation of chairperson posts in the manner contemplated under Art. 243-D(4) and 243-T(4) was unconstitutional, irrespective of whether these reservations were implemented on a rotational basis and irrespective of whether the beneficiaries are SCs, STs and women. The objection was directed against the very principle of reserving chairperson posts in elected local bodies.
The common thread running across the petitioners’ arguments was that these provisions which were inserted into the Constitution by way of the 73rd and 74th Amendments, were violative of principles such as equality, democracy and fraternity, which are part of the ‘basic structure’ doctrine principles that have been evolved for conferring the reservation benefits contemplated by Articles 15(4) and 16(4) cannot be mechanically applied in the context of reservations enabled by Article 243-D and 243-T. In this respect, we endorse the proposition that Article 243-D and 243-T form a distinct and independent constitutional basis for reservations in local self-government institutions, the nature and purpose of which is different from the reservation policies designed to improve access to higher education and public employment, as contemplated under Article 15(4) and 16(4) respectively.
The following were the conclusions:
(i) The nature and purpose of reservations in the context of local self-government is considerably different from that of higher education and public employment. 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. Even when made, they need not be for a period corresponding to the period of reservation for purposes of Articles 15(4) and 16(4), but can be much shorter.
(ii) Article 243-D(6) and Article 243-T(6) are constitutionally valid since they are in the nature of provisions which merely enable State Legislatures to reserve seats and chairperson posts in favour of backward classes. Concerns about disproportionate reservations should be raised by way of specific challenges against the State Legislations.
(iii) Regarding the quantum of reservations provided for OBCs under the impugned State Legislations the onus is on the executive to conduct a rigorous investigation into the patterns of backwardness that act as barriers to political participation which are indeed quite different from the patterns of disadvantages in the matter of access to education and employment. 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. The identification of ‘backward classes’ under Art. 243- D(6) and Art. 243-T(6) should be distinct from the identification of SEBCs for the purpose of Art. 15(4) and that of backward classes for the purpose of Art. 16(4).
(iv) The upper ceiling of 50% vertical reservations 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.
(v) The reservation of chairperson posts in the manner contemplated by Article 243-D(4) and 243-T(4) is constitutionally valid. These chairperson posts cannot be equated with solitary posts in the context of public employment