The Bombay High Court on Monday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by two BJP and MNS workers challenging the draft delimitation notification issued by the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal.
The division bench of Justice AA Sayed and Justice Abhay Ahuja also imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 each on the two petitioners – Nitesh Rajhans Singh of the BJP and Sagar Kantilal Devre of the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena).
Singh and Devre had challenged the “legality and propriety” of the BMC delimitation notification published on February 1, claiming that the State Election Commission (SEC) had not delegated such powers to the corporation.
The BMC had published the notification along with the new map of the wards and sought public feedback till February 14. Under the draft delimitation plan, the number of wards in the city has been increased from 227 to 236, and the boundaries of the wards have also been changed. Of the nine new wards, three wards each have been added from the island city, the western suburbs and the eastern suburbs.
Defending the BMC notification, advocate Sachindra Shetye for the SEC said the contention of the petitioners was misplaced as the poll body in 2005 had stipulated that while the state government cannot change the overall boundaries of the civic body, it put no restrictions on changing the boundaries of individual wards. He added that the powers were delegated to the BMC commissioner as per election rules.
Shetye also informed the court that the SEC has asked Additional Chief Secretary Manoj Saunik to conduct a hearing on the objections raised against the notification and submit a report by March 1.
“He (BMC commissioner) has been delegated power as an independent officer to prepare a draft and then publish it in gazette. The law stipulates either officers of the SEC or officers empowered by the SEC can be delegated powers. We have also appointed Saunik, an independent officer of the state government and senior to the BMC commissioner, to conduct the hearing on the objections as a delegate of the SEC. He will make recommendations to the SEC regarding formation of the wards. However, the final notification will be issued only under the signature of the state election commissioner.”
Responding to the court’s query on why an SEC officer could not be appointed to conduct the hearing, Shetye said that the poll body does not have the required strength with only 52 of the 80 sanctioned posts being currently filled up.
“We do not have enough officers to conduct the exercise, so we have no option other than delegating powers. There is no violation of any law,” Shetye said and sought dismissal of the PIL.
Senior advocate Anil Sakhare representing the BMC said the draft was rightly published by Chahal since he is the person having “entire machinery and can act as a delegate of the SEC”.
“He (Chahal) is working as an extended arm of the SEC and does not take instructions from the state chief secretary or the urban development department… The SEC has the power to requisition anyone’s services,” Sakhare said.
He added that the delimitation process was carried out and the number of seats increased based on a commensurate rise in population.
The detailed verdict in the case will be made available in due course.