The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the number of seats reserved for Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes in local bodies should not exceed 50% of the total seats, Bar and Bench reported.

The Supreme Court read down a section of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961, which made it mandatory for the government to provide 27% reservation to OBCs in local bodies. It was hearing petitions seeking that the section be declared as ultra vires to the Constitution.

The court noted that reservation for OBCs was only a “statutory dispensation to be provided by the State legislations” and not similar to the “constitutional” reservation related to the SCs/STs.

“The provision is being read down to mean that reservation in favour of OBCs in the concerned local bodies can be notified to the extent that it does not exceed aggregate 50 per cent of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together,” a bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar, Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi said.

The court explained that OBCs could be given reservation up to 27%, but subject to the limit of 50% total reservation for SCs/STs and OBCs.

The Supreme Court quashed notifications issued by the Maharashtra Election Commission, which provided more than 50% reservation to OBCs and SC/STs in the Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis of Washim, Akola, Nagpur and Bhandara districts.

It cancelled the elections of OBC candidates in these districts in 2019 and 2020, and ordered fresh polls. “The vacancy of seats caused on account of this declaration be forthwith filled up by the State Election Commission,” the Supreme Court bench said, according to The Indian Express.

The court directed the government to comply with some conditions before providing reservation to OBCs in local bodies, Live Law reported.

“To wit, (1) to set up a dedicated Commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua local bodies, within the State; (2) to specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body wise in light of recommendations of the Commission, so as not to fall foul of overbreadth; and (3) in any case such reservation shall not exceed aggregate of 50 per cent of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together,” it said.