A Supreme Court verdict on Madhya Pradesh local body elections is likely to force Karnataka to hold the much-delayed elections to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). The Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 10, instructed the Madhya Pradesh State Election Commission (SEC) to issue a poll programme for local bodies within two weeks, saying more than 23,263 such bodies have been functioning without elected representatives for the past two years. “This is bordering on a breakdown of rule of law,” the Supreme Court bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice AS Oka and Justice CT Ravikumar said.
In its order, the Supreme Court said that the ongoing activity of delimitation or formation of wards cannot be a legitimate ground to not discharge its constitutional obligation in notifying the elections and ensuring that an elected body is installed before the expiry of the five-year term of the outgoing elected body.
More importantly, though this is an order for Madhya Pradesh local body polls, the apex court made it clear that this is an order not limited to the Madhya Pradesh State Election Commission, but to “all the states and Union Territories and the respective Election Commissions” to “uphold the constitutional mandate.”
This may be significant for the Bengaluru civic body elections, which have been delayed for almost two years now. The BBMP elections were scheduled to be held in September 2020, but were stalled due to a delimitation exercise started by the government well after the due date. Now, the Supreme Court has said that if there is a need to undertake delimitation — which indeed is a continuous exercise to be undertaken by the concerned authority — it ought to be commenced well-in-advance to ensure that the elections to the concerned local bodies are notified in time.
Shortly after the Supreme Court verdict, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai instructed the Law Department and Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi to study the full text of the order on holding elections to local bodies in Madhya Pradesh.
"We have not received the copy of the Supreme Court order. We will follow whatever decision the Election Commission takes based on the Supreme Court order. The Supreme Court order will apply to all states and local bodies. We will discuss it with the State Election Commission and act accordingly," Chief Minister Bommai said.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Karnataka Revenue Minister R Ashoka indicated that the BBMP election will be for 198 wards and not for 243 wards, as was earlier ordered by the Karnataka High Court in 2020. The Karnataka government had appealed against this verdict, which is now being heard by the Supreme Court. Minister R Ashoka said, "As I understand it, the elections should be held for the same number of wards as the previous election and so even this time we have to hold polls for 198 wards.” He added that CM Bommai will hold discussions with legal experts regarding the same.
TNM has done a three-part series on how Bengaluru's fragile infrastructure is crumbling in the absence of elected corporators. The series looks at how the strength of ward committees has eroded in the absence of corporators, the legal obstacles that have to be overcome for conducting the elections and the political machinations underway to maintain the status quo.