The Supreme Court has held that a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe or Backward Class category can contest elections in posts reserved for the general category and there cannot be a restriction on their vying for the post.
"The expression belonging to the general category wherever employed means the seats or offices earmarked are for persons belonging to all categories irrespective of their caste, class or community or tribe," the apex court noted.
"The unreserved seats euphemistically described as general category seats are open seats available for all candidates who are otherwise qualified to contest to that office," a bench of Justices L S Panta and B Sudershan Reddy observed.
The bench passed the observation while quashing a Punjab and Haryana High Court judgement which had ruled that a person belonging to the SC, ST or Backward Class cannot contest for the post of the president of Hisar municipal council reserved for the general category post.
In this case Bihari Lal Rada, a Backward Class candidate, was elected as president of the municipal council in the elections held in 2005 which was reserved for general category candidates.
However, the election was set aside by the high court on a petition by Anil Jain, a general category candidate who was defeated in the election.
Rejecting the high court's contention, the apex court citing the Constitution bench ruling in the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India (1992) recalled the observation. "In this connection it is well to remember that the reservations under Article 16(4) do not operate like a communal reservation," the apex court noted.
"It may well happen that some members belonging to, say, Scheduled Castes get selected in the open competition field on the basis of their own merits; they will not be counted against the quota reserved for Scheduled Castes; they will be treated as open competition candidates," the Supreme Court observed.
Accordingly the apex court said that wherever the office of the president of a municipality is required to be filled in by a member belonging to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe or Backward Class as the case may be, it would be enough if one belongs to one of those categories irrespective of the fact whether they have been elected from a general ward or a reserved ward.
"Obviously there cannot be any such reservation of seats in municipalities nor to the office of chairperson in favour of candidates belonging to general category. There is no separate category like a general category," the apex court clarified, while setting aside the high court judgement.