Updated: July 28, 2020 7:43:25 am
From July 27, the Supreme Court will commence daily final hearing on a batch of petitions challenging the reservation granted to the Maratha community in education and jobs in Maharashtra. A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat is hearing the Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) on a daily basis through video-conferencing.
The petitions challenge the June 2019 Bombay High Court decision, which upheld the constitutional validity of the Maratha quota under the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018.
The top court will also hear a petition challenging admission to postgraduate medical and dental courses under the quota in the state.
Who are the Marathas?
The Marathas are a group of castes comprising peasants, landowners among others. While most Marathas are Marathi-speaking, not all Marathi-speaking persons belong to Maratha community. A politically dominant community in Maharashtra, it comprises nearly one-third of the population of the state.
Historically, Marathas have been identified as a ‘warrior’ caste with large land-holdings. Since the formation of the Maharashtra state in 1960, of its 19 chief ministers, 11 have been from the Maratha community.
While division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline of prosperity among middle class and lower middle-class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy.
What did the Bombay High Court rule?
On February 6 last year, a division bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre commenced hearing in petitions filed by advocate Jishri Laxmanrao Patil and others. In April last year, the court closed the petitions for the verdict.
While ruling that the 16 per cent quota granted by the state was not ‘justifiable,’ the Bombay High Court on July 27 last year reduced it to 12 per cent in education and 13 per cent in government jobs, as recommended by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission.
The bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Bharati H Dangre said: “We hold and declare that the limit of reservation should not exceed 50%. However, in exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situations, this limit can be crossed subject to availability of quantifiable and contemporaneous data reflecting backwardness, inadequacy of representation and without affecting the efficiency in administration.”
The Court had said that while the backwardness of the community was not comparable with SCs and STs, it was comparable with several other backward classes, which find place in the list of Other Backward Classes pursuant to the Mandal Commission.
What did the HC rely on?
The court relied heavily on findings of the 11-member Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) headed by retired Justice G M Gaikwad. The Committee surveyed about 45, 000 families from two villages from each of 355 talukas with more than 50 per cent Maratha population. The report submitted on November 15, 2018, said that the Maratha community is socially, economically and educationally backward.
In social backwardness, the Commission found that around 76.86 % of Maratha families are engaged in agriculture and agricultural labour for their livelihood and nearly 70% reside in Kachha dwellings, and only 35- 39 % have personal tap water connections. Moreover, the report said that in 2013-2018, a total of 2,152 (23.56%) Maratha farmers died by suicide, against total 13, 368 farmer suicides.
The Commission also found that 88.81 % Maratha women are involved in physical labour for earning livelihood, besides physical domestic work they perform for the family.
In educational backwardness, it found that 13.42 % of Marathas are illiterate, 35.31 % primary educated, 43.79 % HSC and SSC, 6.71 % undergraduates and postgraduates and 0.77 % technically and professionally qualified.
In economic backwardness, the Commission found that 93 % Maratha families have an annual income of Rs 1 lakh, which was below average income of middle-class families. Moreover, it found that 37. 38% families were Below Poverty line against the state average of 24% and 71% own less than 2.5 acres land, whereas only 2.7% big farmers own 10 acres of land.
The HC expressed satisfaction over the data and observed that the Commission had conclusively established the social, economic and educational backwardness of the Maratha community. It had also established inadequacy of representation of the Maratha community in public employment in the state.
What is the existing total reservation in Maharashtra post HC verdict?
A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in the 1993 Indra Sawhney case, which is known as Mandal Commission case, had ruled that total reservation for backward classes cannot go beyond the 50%-mark. Maharashtra is one of the few states that are an exception to this.
In the state, following the 2001 State Reservation Act, the total reservation was 52 per cent. This included quotas for Scheduled Caster (13%), Scheduled Tribes (7%), Other Backward Classes (19%), Special Backward Class (2%), Vimukti Jati (3%), Nomadic Tribe B (2.5%), Nomadic Tribe C-Dhangar (3.5%) and Nomadic Tribe D-Vanjari (2%). The quotas for Nomadic Tribes and Special Backward Classes have been carved out of the total OBC quota.
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With the addition of 12-13 per cent Maratha quota, the total reservation in the state is 64-65 per cent.
The 10 % Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota announced by the Centre last year is also effective in the state.
How challenges to Maratha quota have been dealt by the HC and the SC so far
The Bombay High Court on July 11 last year dismissed a petition filed by a group of aspiring medical students challenging the constitutional validity of a June amendment to the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, allowing Maratha reservation for 2019-2020 admissions to MBBS courses.
The Supreme Court on July 12, 2019 refused to stay the June 27 Bombay High Court judgement, which had upheld the validity of the reservation. The SC had clarified that the reservation will not have retrospective effect. Thereafter, time and again, the Apex Court has refused to put an interim stay on the quota.
Recently, the top court refused to grant interim stay on a plea by medical students, seeking a direction that the 12 % quota not be made applicable for admissions in post graduate medical and dental courses for academic year 2020-21.
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