Panaji, Mar 1 (IANS): Billed as a crucial round of local body polls ahead of the 2022 Assembly elections in Goa, the Bombay High Court bench in the coastal state on Monday picked fist-sized holes in the Goa government's reservation procedure, with the court order exposing glaring instances of illegalities and violation of the constitutionally mandated provisions for reservation.
The HC also passed severe strictures against the Directorate of Municipal Administration (DMA), a state government agency responsible for carving out reservations for women, OBC, ST and SC communities in constituencies of five municipalities, polls for which have now been postponed pending fresh rounds of reservations as directed in the HC order.
In their order, Justices Bharati Dangre and Satish Sonak said that in one instance in the Sanguem municipality jurisdiction, an entire municipality ward with just one Scheduled Tribe (ST) voter was reserved as an SC constituency, while another constituency with a 30 per cent ST population was not notified as a reserved ward for the polls, which were originally scheduled for March 20.
"The constituency which has more than 30 per cent ST population has been left unreserved and the constituency which has only one ST member corresponding to 0.23 per cent ST population is reserved for ST. The impugned order dated February 4, 2021 to the extent it reserves ward No.1 for ST, is vitiated by arbitrariness, unreasonableness, and non application of mind," the order stated.
The Opposition in Goa has been up in arms, accusing the BJP-led coalition of being arbitrary in reserving seats for the municipal elections for political convenience. While the state election commission had last week announced municipal elections to 11 municipalities and one municipal corporation, the HC order has led to the postponement of polls in five of the municipalities in Margao, Mapusa, Mormugao, Sanguem and Quepem.
According to the HC order, polls in the five named municipal areas need to be completed by April 10, after fresh notification of reservation of wards as per the reservation guidelines.
The high court in its order also slighted the DMA officials for shoddiness in the procedures for reserving wards for women in the upcoming polls, saying the reservation did not match up to the mandated one third reservation for women in local body polls, citing the reservation of wards in the Mormugao Municipal Council.
"There is no dispute and the record bears out that in Mormugao Municipal Council, the total number of seats to be filled by direct election amounts to 25. Out of these, only eight seats have been reserved for women. The reservation of only eight seats out of 25 seats certainly amounts to reservation of less than one-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election to the Mormugao Municipal Council," the order stated.
Incidentally, Goa's Minister for Municipal Administration, Milind Niak, is an MLA from the Mormugao constituency in South Goa.
Reservation of seats for women in panchayats and municipalities were introduced by the 73rd and 74th Amendment to the Panchayati Raj Act, to make women a part of the decision making and governance process, in a democracy governed by law.
"Even in Mapusa, the reservation for women has been flawed since out of 20 seats available to be filled, six seats are reserved for women which amount to 30 per cent which is less than the prescribed one-third percentage and adopting the reasoning aforesaid, the number of seats reserved for women in Mapusa ought to have been seven," the order said.
"Same is the case in respect of Valpoi, Sanguem, Pernem Municipal Council where 10 seats are available for election and three seats have been reserved for women, which amount to 30 per cent of the total number of seats, whereas the reservation provided for women is one third and four seats should have been gone to women, in each of the aforesaid municipal council," the order said.
Coming down heavily on the Director of Municipal Administration, Gurudas Pilarnekar, the court observed that the absence of a government policy for reservation does not give a licence to the director to make reservations on "his whims and caprices".
"Different yardsticks have been applied with respect to different municipal councils. There is no uniform policy even for the implementation of the rotation mandate in the same councils. The entire exercise of making reservations to no less than 11 councils was completed by the Director in a single day February 4, 2021 and even the impugned order was issued on the same date," the order said.
According to state attorney general Devidas Pangam the HC in its observation said that "one third reservation for women was not done properly, fractionally it was lesser than one third".
The order has come as a sort of vindication to the Opposition, which now claims that the HC order had proved that the government was being run on whims and fancies and not by the rule of law.
"Today all #Goans won the verdict of #truth. The BJP led government of @DrPramodPSawant has failed yet again to #cheat us #Goemkars. Today is a historic day. Today is a day of truth. Today marks another moment towards the end of @DrPramodPSawant oppressive reign. #SaveGoaNow," former Deputy Chief Minister and Goa Forward Party MLA Vijai Sardesai tweeted following the order.