Pointing out that any departure from the 50 per cent ceiling rule for reservation was permissible only in “extraordinary situations”, the Supreme Court has said that it is of the “prima facie opinion that the State of Maharashtra has not shown any extraordinary situation for providing reservations to Marathas in excess of 50 per cent”.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat said this while referring to a larger bench certain questions arising out of a challenge to the Maratha reservation law on Wednesday.
The court said that it raises a “substantial question of law” on interpretation of Articles 338-B and 342-A, inserted by Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018.
The 102nd amendment deals with the constitutional status of the National Commission for Backward Classes. Article 338B deals with the structure, duties and powers of the Commission while 342-A speaks about the power of the President to notify a class as Socially and Educationally Backward (SEBC) and the power of Parliament to alter the central SEBC list.
The bench was hearing petitions against the June 27, 2019 order of the Bombay High Court upholding the constitutional validity of the 2018 Maharashtra law.
The court’s order was uploaded on its website on Thursday. The court disagreed with the argument that the matter be referred to a larger bench to settle the question of breach of the 50 per cent ceiling, but it agreed to refer on the question of the 102nd amendment.
The SC said “we find force in the submissions made on behalf of the Respondents relating to the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018”.
The court pointed out that the petitioners had argued before the HC that after the amendment, “the State Legislature has been denuded” of the power to declare a particular class to be SEBC but this was rejected.
The SC said “there is no authoritative pronouncement on the interpretation of the provisions inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018” and the question needs to be settled in order to dispose of the appeals before it.
On the argument that the 50 per cent rule had to be settled, it said “undoubtedly this Court in Indra Sawhney… held that reservations… should not exceed 50 per cent except in certain extraordinary situations” and “that extreme caution has to be exercised and a special case must be made out for…” this.
The 50 per cent ceiling was re-affirmed in the 2006 decision in M. Nagaraj vs Union of India, it said, adding “as the question… has already been decided by this Court, it cannot be said that any substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution arises in this case”.
On departure being allowed from 50 per cent ceiling, it said this “can be made in certain situations. People living in far flung and remote areas not being in the mainstream of national life should be treated in a different way. In view of the conditions peculiar to them they are entitled to be given relaxation.”
Applying the law laid down in Indira Sawhney case to the Maharashtra law, it said the “Maratha community which comprises of 30 per cent of the population in the State of Maharashtra cannot be compared to marginalized sections of the society living in far flung and remote areas. The State has failed to make out a special case… Neither has any caution been exercised…”
It added that the “social, educational and economic backwardness of a community, existence of quantifiable data relating to inadequacy of representation of the community in public services and deprivation of the benefits flowing from reservations to the community are not exceptional circumstances…”