PUTTING behind months of anger and frustration, the Maratha community on Thursday was jubilant after the state Assembly passed the quota Bill, providing 16 per cent reservation in jobs and education to the community.
Describing it as historic, Budhajirao Mulik, an authority on Maratha social status, said, “After a long struggle, the community has secured justice. It is a tribute to the fight put up by the community, especially youngsters, several of whom laid down their lives.”
Mulik is the head of the Bhumata Charitable Trust, which submitted a survey report to the State Social Backward Commission about the social and educational backwardness of the community.
Vinod Patil, one of the petitioners in the reservation case and a coordinator of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, said, “The strong fight put up by the community has yielded rich dividends. It was not an easy fight. Several families have been wrecked as their key members ended their lives in support of quota. Therefore, the reservation Act is a true tribute to those who laid down their lives.”
Parliament nod and legal battle next challenge
With the Maratha Reservation Bill passed by the Maharashtra legislature, the next — and bigger — challenge for the community will be to get approval from Parliament, and to win the legal battles that will almost inevitably follow. Efforts at extending reservations beyond the Supreme Court mandated ceiling have mostly struggled in courts. A way to make the law immune from legal scrutiny is to make it part of the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. That will need a two-thirds majority in both Houses, which the BJP does not have on its own. Shoring up support from other parties could take time. Even inclusion in the Ninth Schedule may not automatically give the law permanent immunity from scrutiny by the courts. The Supreme Court in I R Coelho v State of Tamil Nadu (2007) ruled that laws that violated the basic structure of the Constitution would be open to judicial review, including any law added to the Ninth Schedule after April 24, 1973.
Rajendra Kondhare, another coordinator of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, said the Maratha community took out 58 silent morchas, each participated by lakhs of people. “Not a single untoward incident occurred during the morchas, which speaks highly of the community, which believes in the preachings of Chhatrapati Shivaji,” he said.
Both Mulilk and Patil thanked the Devendra Fadnavis government for keeping its word. “The Maratha community has reason to celebrate. The government has delivered on its promise. We are also confident the Act will stand judicial scrutiny. We are ready to fight it out in the Supreme Court,” they said.
The BJP was quick to claim credit. BJP MLAs Laxman Jagtap and Mahesh Landge said, “The CM has kept his word on providing 16 per cent reservation to the Maratha community.”
Mukund Kirdat, AAP spokesperson, said this was the first stage of the fight for Maratha reservation, the next fight will be in the courts, where the decision has to stand judicial scrutiny.
Congress spokesperson Ramesh Iyer said the party welcomed the decision but now the Centre should act decisively, putting the Act in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. Author Shrimant Kokate, however, said till the court clears it, they will not celebrate. “Forty youths from the community have committed suicide. How can we celebrate?.This reservation is incomplete,” he said.
Justice (retired) P B Sawant, who was part of the nine-member Supreme Court bench which had given the historic judgment in the Indra Sawhney case by laying down the 50 per cent reservation limit in 1992, said, “There is every possibility that the latest government decision will be challenged in court on the grounds that it exceeds the 50 per cent quota limit. It happened in the Karnataka medical admission case too, where the state government had given 66 per cent reservation… It was struck down.”
Justice Sawant said even if the reservation Act is put in the Ninth Schedule, as believed, it will be challenged. “The Supreme Court in this regard has clearly laid down that any Act which violates the basic structure of the Constitution is unconstitutional…” “The best option available now is for Parliament to make a law for exceeding the quota by 50 per cent,” he added.
Constitutional expert Ulhas Bapat said the state government will find it difficult to implement the Act from December 1 when the Governor is likely to give his assent to it. “This is because it will be immediately challenged by open category people who are set to lose 16 per cent space. Similarly, the OBCs too will challenge it as the government will have to accommodate Marathas in OBC category,” he said.
As to why OBCs will challenge the decision, Bapat said, “Though Fadnavis has said their decision will not affect the OBC quota, OBCs are going to challenge it as the Marathas have now been declared as OBCs. If the government’s decision to give quota through SEBC category is termed unconstitutional by the court, the Marathas will seek quota through OBC category,” he said.