In a move that could have a bearing on BMC election outcome and hurt Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena which has been weakened by the recent split in his party and fall of the MVA government, the two-member state Cabinet of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday reversed the MVA government’s decision on delimitation of wards last year. The new government’s decision ahead of the BMC elections will not only bring the number of electoral wards in the BMC down to 227 instead of 236 (post the delimitation exercise during MVA), but according to sources, will also hurt the prospects of Shiv Sena in the elections.
Ironically, the decision to increase BMC ward numbers was taken by the Urban Development Department (UDD) headed by Shinde in the MVA government. On Wednesday, he reversed his own decision. Changes have also been made in the ward numbers of other municipal corporations and zilla parishads.
The decision is likely to harm the Sena in the coming BMC polls as the delimitation of wards was said to be in favour of the ruling Sena. As the party struggles to keep the flock together following Shinde’s rebellion, continuing control over the BMC is a priority for Thackeray. With the delimitation decision reversed and likely delay in the elections, the Sena faces the toughest challenge of continuing its control.
The MVA Cabinet on November 10 last year increased the number of BMC wards to 236 and notification for the same was issued on December 3. Based on it, the State Election Commission (SEC) asked the BMC administration to redraw ward boundaries. The delimitation draft was issued on February 1, 2022, which received negative reactions from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress.
BJP corporators even approached the Bombay High Court, filing a Public Interest Litigation which was rejected by the court. Ever since the formation of the new government, the BJP had been demanding the cancellation of the process. The Congress, despite being the alliance partner in the MVA, opposed the move. On Tuesday, a delegation of the party leaders led by former Union minister Milind Deora held a meeting with Fadnavis demanding cancellation of the delimitation process. Both the BJP and the Congress alleged that the new ward boundaries were beneficial to Shiv Sena.
Deora welcomed the Cabinet decision and said, “The Maharashtra Government today has taken a crucial decision to cancel the delimitation policy adopted by Shiv Sena earlier this year. The delimitation policy damaged the Congress in Mumbai. At every level, the concerns of the Congress and the cry of its municipal councillors were ignored.”
“I must extend my appreciation to the Maharashtra government for taking a swift decision in this matter. I urge the SEC to ensure that ward-wise reservation is done in a transparent manner. Mumbai is India’s richest and most prestigious municipal corporation. Its citizens deserve free and fair elections. Mumbai’s electoral integrity must be protected and cherished through all decisions that are taken in the future,” Deora said.
Meanwhile, based on the new number of wards, the SEC had already issued a lottery of ward reservation and with the Supreme Court clearing OBC reservation, the lottery for the same was also issued. Change in the number of wards will also amount to a change in declared ward reservation which is likely to invite discontent and more legal battles for the state government. Sources within the SEC said that the authority has yet not received official communication from the state government.
The Supreme Court has already directed the SEC to announce an election programme. “If change in ward number amounts to change in ward reservations, then the entire process is set to be delayed further,” said an official from the SEC.
Among other decisions, for Municipal Corporation with a population between 3 lakh and 6 lakh, the minimum number of members is between 65 and 85. There will be one member of every 15,000 population slab over 3 lakh.
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For corporations with a population between 6 lakh and 12 lakh, the member limit is between 85-115. There will be one member of every 20,000 population slab over 6 lakh. For corporations with a population between 12 lakh and 24 lakh, the member limit is between 115 and 151. There will be one member of every 40,000 population slab over 12 lakh. For corporations with a population between 24 lakh and 30 lakh, the member limit is between 151-161. There will be one member of every 50,000 population slab over 24 lakh. For corporations with a population above 30 lakh, the member limit is between 161-175. There will be one member of every 1,00,000 population slab over 30 lakh.
Following the MVA government’s decision in 2021, the number of members in Pune Municipal Corporation had increased to 173 from 162 in 2017. In Nashik Municipal Corporation, the number went up from 122 to 133. In Nagpur, the number increased from 151 to 156 while in Pimpri-Chinchwad, the number increased to 139 from 128. Similarly, all other municipal corporations too had witnessed a change in the number of members. Following the Cabinet decision on Wednesday, these numbers may change again.
The Cabinet decision amended Maharashtra Zilla Parishad Ordinance 1961 keeping zilla parishad member numbers between 50 and 75. Presently, the minimum limit is 55 while the maximum limit is 85.