The Karnataka High Court on Friday directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to declare elections to 198 wards of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) as early as possible, within two-and-a-half months from now.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice S. Vishwajith Shetty pronounced the judgement.
Last week, the same division bench had directed the SEC to hold gram panchayat polls and based on the directions, the SEC moved swiftly and announced the dates for the elections to the gram panchayats in two phases.
With the high court setting up a deadline of six weeks to the SEC after the Karnataka government finalises its reservations in four weeks' time, the elections to the BBMP will have to be held within the next two-and-a-half months.
Though the bench gave six weeks' time, it directed the Karnataka government to publish the final notification of reservations for 198 wards as per the Delimitation Notification 2020 within a month.
This is a setback for the state government, which tried to defer the elections by amending the KMC Act, to increase the number of wards from 198 to 243 during the last legislative session.
Even though the court held that the amendment brought to the KMC Act by the state government to increase the number of wards from 198 to 243 is valid, it asserted that it is not applicable to the present elections to be held for the BBMP.
The SEC had filed a PIL in January 2020 seeking directions to the state government to extend necessary cooperation to comply with the constitutional mandate by holding elections before the expiry of the present term of the BBMP Council.
The SEC had also argued that at least one year time is required to conduct elections if 243 wards are taken into consideration, and moreover, public money and time spent already for preparing the voter list will go waste.
The high court observed that the Karnataka government will have to read its amended law with the Article 243 of the Constitution. "By doing so, Karnataka will realise that the amendment will not be applicable to corporations which ought to have held elections prior to the amendment of the law. In this case 198 wards," it said.
Meanwhile, two former corporators also moved the court by filing PILs seeking directions to hold elections to the existing 198 wards instead of the proposed 243 wards.
This came after the state brought an amendment to the KMC Act to increase the number of wards to 243 from 198 and constitute a Delimitation Commission to submit a report.
Even the other two petitioners also supported the contention of the SEC and strongly opposed the state's move to defer elections to the BBMP which is now under administrator control as the term of the corporators has expired.
It may be noted that the state government also tried to defer the grama panchayat elections citing the Covid-19 pandemic but could not succeed due to the intervention of the high court.
In the 2015 BBMP polls, the BJP had emerged as the single largest part by winning 100 of the 198 seats, while Congress had won 76, Janata Dal (S) 14 and Independents 8.
Although, the BJP had the majority, it could not wrest the ruling party status due to the clause of the KMC Act that makes MLAs, MPs and MLCs who are registered voters in the BBMP areas eligible to elect the Mayor.
With the MLAs, MLCs and MPs also becoming the voters, the BBMP's strength goes up to 262 and the magic figure to elect the Mayor becomes 132.
This is how the Congress and JD(S) ruled the BBMP for nearly three-and-a-half years, until the incumbent Chief Minister, Yediyurappa, came to power in 2019 and changed the equations in the party's favour.