Attorney General Devidas Pangam has given his opinion. He has informed the State government that the data with the State Election Commission on OBC reservations is not as per the Supreme Court directions and suggested that the State OBC Commission will have to prepare a detailed report about the wards to be reserved for this category. With no OBC census in place, the SEC will have to rely on whatever data is available and fit it into the criteria set by the apex court. The ball is in the SEC's court and the State will have no option but to patiently await the date of elections.
The question here is why is the election machinery falling short when it comes to local body elections? The SC directive may have come unexpected, but the delay in notifying the revised delimitation is not acceptable given the fact that the elections were scheduled for May. To add to this, reservations are not yet finalised, keeping the electoral process still open even as ministers are playing the guessing game and spelling out one date after another.
The Assembly elections results were declared on March 10 leaving a lot of time for the poll machinery to get their act together and prepare for the panchayat elections. Delimitation and ward reservation has been an issue in past elections, and still, lessons have not been learnt. If we may recall on March 21, the State government had to face the embarrassment when the Supreme Court quashed the reservations.
Another question that emerges is whether this delay in the electoral process is because of concerted moves to manipulate the machinery with a mind to seize the advantage. This is where the autonomous nature and independence of the SEC come into question. It appears that the SECs have surrendered this basic aspect and rather allowed themselves to function as a mouthpiece of the government in electoral matters.
In the March 2021 ruling of the Supreme Court, the Goa State Election Commissioner was told to step down from his post with the bench directing that the post should be ‘independent’. If we recall, at that time, law secretary Choka Ram Garg was given an additional charge as the State Election Commissioner. The trend is that the government chooses a retired officer for the top SEC post, under which there is an obligation, to begin with. The independence in decision-making and operation is somewhat lost here because an appointee is bound to the master.
The delay in delimitation and ward reservation is unacceptable, and this time, like every other time, it raises suspicion about the fairness of the poll process while exposing the ugly side of manipulative politics. Time and again systemic loopholes have been well exploited to extract advantage. We only wonder if this is going to be a never-ending cycle where those in power make it their right to define the contours of grass-root bodies.