Maharashtra civic polls: how multi-member ward system works

With several upcoming municipal corporation and council polls, the NCP and Congress preference for the multi-member ward system has prevailed.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra on Wednesday took a decision to reintroduce the multi-member ward system for all municipal councils and corporations barring the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), instead of the existing single-member ward system. The decision comes ahead of municipal council and corporation elections to be held later this year and early next year.

What is the multi-member ward system?

There will be a three-member ward system in municipal corporations and a two-member ward system in municipal councils. In other words, municipal seats will be demarcated together to create a three- and two-member ward system in corporations and councils respectively. There will be no change in the number of wards or corporators; the wards will be bunched together only for the purpose of the election.

Those contesting from the same party or alliance across the designated multi-member ward will campaign across the two or three wards, although they will file their nomination from individual wards. If elected, each will represent the individual ward only. Voters, however, will be able to select candidates in their own ward as well as in the other wards clubbed together in the multi-member ward.

Although candidates from the same party/alliance in a multi-member ward will be called a “panel”, a voter does not really select a panel, but individual candidates, who can be from the same party or from different parties. A voter is also entitled to select just one candidate. But for this, the voter has to make a written submission to the presiding officer of the booth. This is to ensure documentary proof in case a party or candidate goes to court questioning how a candidate got fewer votes than others.

When has the system been tried before?

A three-member ward system in municipal corporations was introduced in 2001 by then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. It was scrapped in 2006. In 2011, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan introduced a two-member ward system for municipal corporations and a four-member system for councils. In 2016, Chief Minister M Devendra Fadnavis changed it to a four-member system for corporations and a three-member system for councils.

In December 2019, the MVA government decided to scrap it and revert to the single-member ward system. But with several upcoming municipal corporation and council polls, the NCP and Congress preference for the multi-member ward system has prevailed.

What is the rationale?

The reason for the non-partisan support to this scheme is that it appears to help a party or alliance maximise its seats. A party can offset weak candidates with strong ones in a multi-member ward. The hope is that the strongest of the candidates will carry the day for the others in the “panel”, even though this is not guaranteed.

The state Urban Development Department notifies rules for the manner of allotment and rotation of reservation of seats of corporators in wards. Subsequently, the State Election Commission undertakes an exercise for the allotment for seats for the reserved category and rotating them, said sources.

This decision will help field one woman as well as OBC and open category candidates in the panel and there would be no injustice to anybody. Nobody will be impacted due to reservation in any particular ward. All sections will get justice in forming a three-member panel,” said Nawab Malik, NCP minister, adding that it would also help the three allies to jointly field candidates wherever possible.

Will it cause a delay in holding the polls?

There was speculation that the MVA has done this to delay polls in order to win time to bring back the OBC quota, scrapped by the Supreme Court in March, in local bodies. But State Election Commission sources said the multi-member ward system will come into effect the day the government amends the law either through an ordinance or a Bill but it will not lead to deferring the polls.

“We have already started the process of drafting ward boundaries of municipal corporations. We can make changes, as it is not a huge exercise. So, it will not lead to deferring of local bodies polls,” said a senior SEC official.

An ordinance has to be promulgated, and sent to the Governor for approval.

Why has the BMC been left out?

Sources said the single-member ward system is maintained in BMC due to the population and huge size of wards in BMC.

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