The Maharashtra government on Friday sought the formation of a larger Supreme Court bench for hearing the Maratha reservation issue.
While a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan had said it will hear the matter on a day-to-day basis from January 25, PWD Minister Ashok Chavan, who heads the state’s ministerial sub-committee formed over the quota strife, on Friday demanded that a nine-judge or a 11-judge bench should hear the issue.
On September 9 last year, a three-judge bench of the SC, headed by Justice L N Rao, had stayed the Maratha quota in education and government jobs, which were rolled out in 2018 by the previous BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state.
The state legislature, in 2018, had unanimously passed the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, extending reservations to the youth from the politically-dominant Maratha community. Introducing a new SEBC category for reservations, the state had extended 12 per cent and 13 per cent reservations to the Marathas in education and jobs, respectively. The matter has now been referred to the five-judge bench.
Facing flak over its handling of the Maratha quota issue in the SC, the Uddhav Thackeray government, however, feels that a larger bench is necessary to overturn the landmark order by a nine-judge bench in 1993 that had capped total reservation at 50 per cent. “A five-judge bench won’t be able to overturn the 1993 order,” Chavan said. He also called for a review of the 50 per cent cap. “The decision was taken three decades ago. It should be reviewed,” he added.
Ahead of the SC hearing, the government also tossed the ball in the Centre’s court.
Observing that the SC had issued a notice to the Attorney General of India, Chavan said that the Union government must intervene in the case in support of the state’s case.
“This is not an issue of any government or a party,” said Chavan, pleading assistance from the Centre to ensure that the state’s legislation regarding the SEBC quota stands legal scrutiny. “The Centre has an opportunity. It must ensure that the Attorney General appears personally and takes a stance in favour of the reservations,” he added.
While prodding BJP MPs and leaders from Maharashtra to draw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention, Chavan said that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray would be writing to the PM over the issue. He added that the state chief secretary was also in consultation with officials in the Union law ministry.
Moreover, Chavan made a case for the inclusion of the stayed SEBC Act in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, which essentially deals with central and state laws that cannot be challenged in courts.
Chavan said he would visit Delhi on January 11, along with other ministers in his sub-committee, to hold deliberations with senior lawyers representing that state in the SC.
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