The Karnataka High Court on Thursday ordered that Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) elections to 198 wards should be announced within 6 weeks.
A Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty also upheld the validity of the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Third Amendment Act, 2020 (Amendment Act) but read it down to hold that the Amendment Act will not apply to elections which ought to have been held before the amendment came into force.
The Bench had earlier reserved it order in the case on November 26.
The judgment came in three petitions seeking directions to the State government to conduct Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) elections on time. The first plea in this regard was moved by M Shivaraju. The State Election Commission (SEC) filed the second plea, while the third petition was moved by Ravi Jajan.
Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, appearing for the State, had supported the recently enacted Karnataka Municipal Corporation Third Amendment Act, 2020, (Amendment Act).
The State Legislature had amended the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act to increase the number of wards from 198 to 225, pending the enactment of a separate law for the administration of the BBMP.
Navadgi argued that a validly constituted legislation can only be struck down on three limited grounds – for lacking legislative competence, for violating fundamental rights, and if found to be ‘manifestly arbitrary’. In the absence of such a finding on these limited grounds, the government cannot be directed to ignore a law validly enacted by the State Legislature, he added.
On the prayer raised by the petitioner seeking timely conduct of BBMP elections, Navadgi clarified that the State government had no objection to the same. In fact, he said that it would wholeheartedly welcome all directions with respect to the timelines within which the new delimitation process and subsequent elections are to be held.
Regarding timely conduct of BBMP elections, Navadgi clarified that the government had no objection to the same. In fact, he said that it would wholeheartedly welcome all directions with respect to the timelines within which the new delimitation process and subsequent elections are to be held.
Appearing for one of the petitioners, Professor Ravivarma Kumar argued that the State Election Commission (SEC) had addressed nearly a dozen communications urging the government to perform the statutory duty of delimitation and reservation of wards from July 2018, to no avail. Therefore, the SEC was forced to approach the High Court seeking directions to the State, said Kumar.
Either the SEC or the petitioners have to approach the Court each time to compel the State to conduct elections, he argued. In 2015, there was a delay in holding BBMP elections, and in 2020, there is a delay in holding Grama Panchayats elections, Kumar elaborated.
Kumar also pointed out that the BBMP’s term came to an end on September 10 this year. He also informed the Court that there is no provision in law to appoint an administrator.
Senior Advocate KN Phanindra, representing the SEC, submitted that it may not be possible to hold elections to the BBMP for one year, as the process of delimitation to carve out 225 new wards will take six months. Thereafter, another six months would be required to fix reservation and to prepare a new voters list, he said.
The plea filed by Shivaraju submitted that as per Article 243-U (3), there is a mandatory obligation on the part of the State government to ensure that the elections to the BBMP are conducted before the expiry of such term, i.e. before September 10 in the present case.
Ideally, the steps to conduct elections ought to have been taken several months in advance so as to facilitate the conducting of elections before the said date, says the plea.
However, till date, absolutely no steps have been taken on the part of the State to prepare electoral rolls, to notify reservations, etc. to the 198 wards in Bengaluru. The respondents have wilfully disobeyed to fulfil their constitutional duty of conducting timely elections, the plea averred.
On these grounds, the plea had sought to direct the State to conduct elections to the BBMP in accordance with Article 243-U and Section 8 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976.
This apart, the plea also challenged the Amendment Act as it seeks to increase the number of wards to 225.