Two days after the Supreme Court said that it was of the prima facie opinion that Maharashtra has not shown any extraordinary situation for providing reservations to Marathas in excess of 50 per cent and that the quota will not be applicable to jobs and admissions in educational institutions in the interim, the state’s former standing counsel, Nishant Katneshwarkar, claimed on Thursday that the decision went against the government as the advocate general (AG) had not argued for the state even once in either the Bombay High Court or the Supreme Court.
AG Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, however, refuted the allegations saying that the state had appointed senior counsel V A Thorat — a Maratha himself — as the special counsel to represent it in the case early last year.
“At the demand made by the Maratha community, then state government had requested me to not appear in the matter and allow Mr Thorat to conduct the matter. With due respect to the demands, I kept myself away from court proceedings. However, I have left no stone unturned in preparing for the case so that the reservation granted was sustained in court,” Kumbhakoni told The Indian Express.
Katneshwarkar, who represented the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis-led government in SC and HC, in a video clip shared on social media on Friday, said that the reason why the state could not succeed in the SC was poor coordination between lawyers and their senior counsels as well as Kumbhakoni not making an appearance in the court.
“When a team would go from Delhi (to Bombay High Court), Kumbhakoniji did not step into the court hall even once. When the Supreme Court was hearing the case also, he did not appear and now when the case was being heard by the court virtually, even then he did not appear before the court. As the AG, it was his duty to defend the Act but he did not appear in the case,” Katneshwarkar said.
He added that the SC order was shocking for both the Maharashtra government and its people.
Thorat, a former AG of Maharashtra, said the allegations made against Kumbhakoni were “mischievous”.
“He did not appear because there were news reports that some groups did not want him to appear. The AG may have not been the face of the government before the court but right from drafting of the legislation, its passing in the Assembly, before the HC and the SC, he was always there. Appearance in court is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the work like research, studying the data and mechanism is done outside the courtroom and for that Mr Kumbhakoni was there. There are thousands of matters in SC in which the AG does not appear himself but nominates someone else,” he added.
Katneshwarkar said he resigned from his post after Fadnavis quit as chief minister and had represented the government thrice prior to that in the HC, which had, last year, upheld the constitutional validity of reservation for the Maratha community in education and government jobs but directed that it be slashed from16 per cent to 12 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.
After the HC’s verdict, last July, then chief minister Fadnavis had thanked legal experts, including the AG and his office, for their efforts while informing the Assembly that the HC had not only upheld the quota but also refused to stay the operation of its decision, meaning the law could be immediately implemented in Maharashtra.
Kumbhakoni was first appointed AG in 2017 by then BJP-Shiv Sena regime. Last December, days after he tendered his resignation to the Governor, the state Cabinet declined to accept his resignation and the Uddhav Thackeray-led government approved a proposal retaining Kumbhakoni as the state’s top legal officer for another term.
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