The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Maharashtra government and the State Election Commission (SEC) to file their affidavits in response to two petitions challenging an ordinance issued by the state reducing the number of directly elected councillors within the Mumbai civic limits from 236 to 227.
A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Gauri Godse noted that the petitions filed by two former councillors raised a “seemingly complex issue” and it would have to be heard only after giving the respondents a chance to respond.
The petitioners had said the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections are already overdue by more than six months and if the ordinance is not stayed, then the SEC will not be able to conduct the polls.
The HC bench on Thursday directed the Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra government and the State Election Commission to file their affidavits by November 25 and posted the matter for hearing on November 30.
The court also issued a notice to the government’s Advocate General as the petitions challenge the constitutional validity of the ordinance issued in August this year. In November 2021, the then Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray had decided to increase the number of wards under the BMC from 227 to 236.
However, in August this year, the Shinde-led government issued an ordinance bringing back the number to 227. Former BMC councillors Raju Pednekar and Sameer Desai in their petitions challenged this decision of the Shinde government and said it sought to put the clock back.
The petitioners said to ensure the increased population was proportionately represented in the BMC, the previous state government had decided that the number of directly elected councillors would be increased by nine, bringing the number to 236. This was then challenged before the HC, which proceeded to dismiss the petitions.
The court had held that the increase in the number of councillors was proportionate to the rise in population based on the 2011 census. This was upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite this, the present state government reversed the earlier cabinet decision, the plea said.
The ordinance under challenge is ex-facie illegal and unconstitutional, as it purports to defeat and nullify the orders of the Supreme Court, the petitions claimed.