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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Supreme Court throws out Maratha quota law, cites 50% reservation cap

It rejected demands to revisit the verdict, or to refer it to a larger Bench for reconsideration.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi |
Updated: May 6, 2021 3:19:20 am
Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down the provisions of a Maharashtra law providing reservation to the Maratha community, which took the total quota in the state above the 50 per cent ceiling set by the court in its 1992 Indra Sawhney (Mandal) judgment.

“The 50% rule…is to fulfill the objective of equality as engrafted in Article 14 of which Articles 15 and 16 are facets… To change the 50% limit is to have a society which is not founded on equality but based on caste rule,” a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan ruled in four separate decisions.

“The democracy is an essential feature of our Constitution and part of our basic structure. If the reservation goes above 50% limit…it will be slippery slope, the political pressure, make it hardly to reduce the same,” it said.

The Bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta, and S Ravindra Bhat, agreed with the findings of the Indra Sawhney judgment that reservation should not exceed 50 per cent unless “extra-ordinary circumstances…for which extreme caution is to be exercised”.

It rejected demands to revisit the verdict, or to refer it to a larger Bench for reconsideration.

“We are of the considered opinion that the cap on percentage of reservation as has been laid down…in…Sawhney is with the object of striking a balance between the rights under Article 15(1) and 15(4) as well as Articles 16(1) and 16(4)…which cannot be said to be arbitrary or unreasonable.”

The Bench said that “providing reservation for advancement of any socially and educationally backward class in public services is not the only means and method for improving the welfare of backward class”, and “the State ought to bring other measures including providing educational facilities to the members of backward class free of cost giving concession in fee, providing opportunities for skill development to enable the candidates from the backward class to be self-reliant”.

It underlined that “in view of the privatisation and liberalisation of the economy, public employment is not sufficient to cater the needs of all”, and there was need for “more avenues for providing opportunities to…weaker sections…and backward class to develop skills for employment not necessary the public service”.

The Bench said that it was “constrained to observe that when more people aspire for backwardness instead of forwardness, the country itself stagnates which situation is not in accord with constitutional objectives”.

The court agreed that society, law, and people change – “but that does not mean that something which is good and proven to be beneficial in maintaining equality in the society should also be changed in the name of change alone”.

It added that “the Constitution (Eighty-first Amendment) Act, 2000 by which sub-clause (4B) was inserted in Article 16 makes it clear that ceiling of 50% “has now received constitutional recognition”.”

The Bench said that the judgment of Indra Sawhney “has stood the test of the time and has never been doubted by any judgment of this Court”, and it too, was bound by it.

On the Maharashtra Act, which was under challenge, the court said: “No extraordinary circumstances were made out in granting separate reservation of Maratha Community by exceeding the 50 per cent ceiling limit of reservation…”, and this “clearly violates Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution which makes the enactment ultra vires”.

Disapproving of the findings of the Justice M G Gaikwad Commission on the basis of which Marathas were classified as a Socially and Educationally Backward Class, the court said “the data collected and tabled by the Commission as noted in the report clearly proves that Marathas are not socially and educationally backward class”. In fact, “the Marathas are dominant forward class and are in the main stream of national life”.

The SC also upheld the 102nd Constitution amendment, saying it does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution.

But while three of the judges — Justices Justices Rao, Gupta, and Bhat — were of the view that after the amendment, only the President will have the power to identify backward classes in a state or Union Territory, the other two judges — Justices Bhushan and Nazeer — were of the view that it does not take away the power of states and UTs to identify backward classes.

The amendment inserted Articles 338B and 342A in the Constitution.

Article 338B deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Classes, while 342A 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.

Wednesday’s judgment came on petitions challenging the June 27, 2019 order of the Bombay High Court upholding the constitutional validity of the Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and for appointments in the public services and posts under the State) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018.

Setting aside the HC’s order, the SC clarified that PG Medical admissions done prior to September 9, 2020 — when it admitted the appeal for hearing — would not be affected.

Admissions to medical, engineering, and other streams which were completed after the HC decision, as well as appointments given to the members of the Maratha community in public services after the HC judgment until September 9, 2020 too, “are saved”.

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