Based on a statement made through special counsel Vikram Nankani, the HC bench of Justices S V Gangapurwala and Arif Doctor adjourned to December 20 two petitions challenging a law passed by the Eknath Shinde government in September to nullify the increase in BMC wards from 227 to 236, effected last November by the Uddhav Thackeray-led government.
Soon after a mid-term change in regime in Maharashtra, the Shinde government via an ordinance in August nullified the delimitation process bringing about an increase in wards and said a decision would be taken based on the 2021 census after it is completed.
In September, the ordinance was converted into an Act. The state’s stand is that the exercise of changing ward boundaries was already exhausted in 2016 based on the 2011 census and any change in number of wards now will have “high possibility of unequal division of ward per population’’. Any reorganisation now can only be based on figures from the next census. Besides, an SC order of May 4, 2022 “explicitly clarified that the delimitation which existed prior to March 11, 2022 in respect of concerned local bodies shall be taken as notional delimitation for the conduct of overdue elections,’’ said the State reply.
The state’s counsel said a similar matter was pending before the Supreme Court and is scheduled for hearing on December 13. He asked for the hearing to be deferred and said the state would not proceed with delimitation in Mumbai’s wards till then.
Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy representing petitioner R S Pednekar of the Shiv Sena (UBT), however, sought an early hearing. The petition has challenged the ordinance and subsequent statute and wanted an interim stay on reversal of ward reorganisation. It accused the state government of making an “illegal attempt to nullify… Supreme Court orders’’ that directed that civic polls be conducted by the SEC based on the delimitation done.
The BMC elections are already delayed by eight months, said Pednekar. The state, SEC and BMC have all responded opposing the petition. The state urban development department in its reply filed by deputy secretary Priyanka Chhapwale sought the petition’s dismissal as it “disclosed nothing” about how the petitioner’s fundamental rights were violated.