- The Bombay High Court has upheld the Maharashtra government’s decision to provide reservation to the Maratha community under the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018.
- However, it quashed the 16% quota by calling it “not justifiable” and that it should not exceed 12% for education and 13% for jobs as recommended by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC).
- The addition of the 12-13 per cent Maratha quota will take the total reservation in the state to 64-65 per cent from the current 52%.
- The demand for Maratha reservation was first mooted in the 1980s.
- The Maharashtra government had passed an ordinance in July 2014 giving 16% quota to Marathas; however, it was struck down by the Bombay High Court.
- The subsequent government came up with a legislation in 2015 to provide the quota but it did not stand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
- In June 2017, the M G Gaikwad Commission was set up to decide on Maratha reservation. It submitted its report in November 2018 stating Marathas were entitled to reservation benefits.
- Consequently, the State passed the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act in Nov 2018 providing 16% reservation to the Maratha community.
- Article 15 permits the state to make any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for SCs and STs regarding their admission to educational institutions both public and private.
- Article 16provides for the reservation in appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens, which in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.
- According to Article 46, thestate shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
Indra Sawhney case
- In the 1992 IndraSawhney case, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court had ruled that total reservation for backward classes could not go beyond 50 per cent, barring rare exceptions.
- Tamil Nadu is example of such as exception. In Tamil Nadu, in addition to the constitutionally guaranteed reservations to the SC/STs and OBCs, the state government offers quota to several backward and most backward castes and classes, taking the total percentage of quota to 69 per cent.
- The Supreme Court has neither endorsed nor struck down 69 per cent quota in Tamil Nadu. In the past several years, the top court permitted the state to continue with 69 per cent reservation by creating an additional 19 per cent seats in educational institutions for the general category to offset the effect of 19 per cent extra quota.
- The court held that the State possesses the legislative competence to enact the legislation and the State’s legislative competence is not in any way affected by the Constitution.
- It went on to state that the legislature of the State would better understand the contingencies, and is thus the best judge to reflect on the needs of a particular class.
- The 50% limit of reservation can be crossed subject to availability of quantifiable and contemporaneous data reflecting backwardness, inadequacy of representation and without affecting the efficiency in administration.
- Citing the commission’s report, the court upheld the extraordinary and exceptional circumstances mentioned in the report to provide quota to Marathas and that that none of the earlier reports had empirical data and therefore could not stand the legal test.
Impact On Demands In Other States
- The judgement can change the face of the reservation regime in the country by removing the upper ceiling laid down by the IndraSawhney judgment.
- There are demands for reservation from caste groups across states (Jats – Haryana, Gurjars – Rajasthan, Patidars – Gujarat, Kapus – Andhra Pradesh) either by inclusion in the OBC list or by creation of a special group as done by Maharashtra. It is to be seen if in the interim, other states renew attempts for policies that breach the 50% ceiling.
- The impact of this ruling on the EWS quota, currently being heard in the SC, is also another factor that will bear watching.
- After the Centre brought about a constitutional amendment in January to enable reservations on economic criteria (10% quota), it was expected that states would accommodate most of these quota demands from non-OBC, non-SC/ST communities under the new category. However, the Maharashtra order may prove a paradigm-buster.