‘Breakdown of rule of law’: SC directs MP to issue poll programme for local bodies

New Delhi:- The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Madhya Pradesh State Election Commission (SEC) to commence the poll programme for over 23,000 local bodies and issue notification within two weeks.

A bench, headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and comprising Justices Abhay S. Oka, said: “Despite such constitutional mandate, the reality in the state of Madhya Pradesh as of now, is that, more than 23,263 local bodies are functioning without the elected representatives for last over two years and more. This is bordering on breakdown of rule of law and more so, palpable infraction of the constitutional mandate qua the existence and functioning of such local self-government, which cannot be countenanced.”

It said the issue of non-conduct of elections in respect of a large number of local bodies is quite staggering.

The bench added: “The ongoing activity of delimitation or formation of ward cannot be a legitimate ground to be set forth by any authority much less the State Election Commission – to not discharge its constitutional obligation in notifying the election programme at the opportune time and to ensure that the elected body is installed before the expiry of 5 (five) years term of the outgoing elected body.”

The top court directed the Madhya Pradesh SEC to proceed on a notional basis and issue an election programme within two weeks.

It also made it clear that until the state government completes the triple test formality, no reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) can be provisioned.

“We direct the State Election Commission by way of interim order, to issue election programme without any further delay on the basis of the wards as per the delimitation done in the concerned local bodies when the elections had become due consequent to expiry of 5 (five) years term of the outgoing elected body or before coming into force of the impugned Amendment Act(s) whichever is later.”

The top court verdict came on a plea challenging validity of some sections of the Madhya Pradesh Municipal Act, 1956, the Madhya Pradesh Panchayat Raj Avam Gram Swaraj Adhiniyam, 1993, and the Madhya Pradesh Municipalities Act, 1961.

The bench added that if the triple test is not completed, the seats (except reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which is a constitutional requirement), the rest of the seats must be notified as for the general category.

“All concerned are obliged to ensure that the newly elected body is installed in every local body before the expiry of 5 (five) years term of the outgoing elected body. Even in case of dissolution before the expiry of five years period, where an Administrator is required to be appointed by the state, that regime cannot be continued beyond 6 (six) months by virtue of relevant provisions in the respective State Legislation(s),” it held.

The bench made it clear that this order and directions given are not limited to the Madhya Pradesh State Election Commission/state of Madhya Pradesh; and Maharashtra State Election Commission/State of Maharashtra in terms of a similar order passed on May 4,2022, but to all the states/UTs and the respective SECs to abide by the same without fail, to uphold the constitutional mandate.