INDIA. Mumbai: In a judgment of far-reaching consequences, the Supreme Court(SC) on Wednesday struck down the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 which had granted 16 percent reservation to the Maratha community in public education and employment, thus exceeding the constitutional limit of 50 percent reservations.
In November 2018, the Maharashtra state legislative assembly had passed a bill to reserve 16 percent reservation in government jobs for the Maratha community after a series of state-wide protests by the Maratha community. The 16 percent reservation sought to hike the total reservations in Maharashtra from 52 percent to 68 percent.
Subsequently, Advocate Jayashri Patil and others filed the petition in the Bombay High Court challenging the 16 percent reservations. In its June 2019 verdict, the Bombay High Court upheld the validity of the SEBC. But it reduced the quota to 12 percent in educational institutions and 13 percent in jobs.
However, the appeals were filed in the SC against the Bombay high court judgment. In September 2020, a three-judge SC bench referred the matter to a constitution bench taking into account the Constitutional issues involved in the matter.
On March 8, 2021, the SC decided to hear all states in the matter, after Senior Counsel Mukul Rohtagi, Kapil Sibal, and Dr. AM Singhvi contended that the case involves an issue that impacts all states since any judgment in the matter could impact the powers of the state to extend reservation to socially and educationally backward classes. The states including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh supported the move of the Maharashtra Government to grant reservations beyond the limit of 50 percent. Final hearings in the matter commenced on March 15, 2021, and after hearing the matter for ten days, the SC reserved its judgment on March 26, 2021.
On Wednesday a five-member constitutional bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta, and S Ravindra Bhat, said that there were no extraordinary circumstances to grant reservation to the Maratha community over and above the 50 percent ceiling on reservation prescribed by the Supreme Court in its 1992 judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India.
“The 2018 Act of the Maharashtra Government as amended in 2019 granting reservation for Maratha community does not make out any exceptional circumstance to exceed the ceiling limit of 50 percent reservation,” the Court held and added that exceeding ceiling limit of 50 percent violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution and violates the principles of equality.
The Court further said that neither the Gaikwad Commission set by the state government nor the judgment of the Bombay High Court has made out an extraordinary situation in the case of Marathas to exceed the ceiling of 50 percent. Conclusions of the commission are unsustainable, the Court emphasized.
However, the bench differed on the interpretation of Article 342A of the Constitution which was inserted by the 102nd Constitutional Amendment. Article 342A calls for the identification of communities in states as socially and educationally backward classes by the President, in consultation with the Governor of the state. The question before the Court was whether the said Article deprived the states of the power to classify any community as SEBC.
Justices Bhushan and Nazeer took the view that by Article 342A, the parliament did not intend to take away the power of states to identify backward classes. However, Justice Rao, Bhat, and Gupta held that under Article 342A, the President alone is empowered to identify SEBC and notify in the list. States can only make suggestions for the inclusion of SEBC in that list.
The operative part of the judgment
The impugned judgment of the High Court is set aside. Section 2(j) of the Act insofar as it declares Maratha community as -Educationally and Socially Backward category is held to be ultra vires the Constitution and is struck down. Section 4(1)(a) of the Act insofar as it grants reservation under Article 15(4) to the extent of 12 percent of the total seats in educational institutions including private institutions whether aided or unaided other than minority institutions is declared ultra vires the Constitution and is struck down.
Section 4(1)(b) of the Act granting reservation up to 13 percent for Maratha community in total appointment indirect recruitment concerning public services and posts under the State is held to be ultra vires the Constitution and struck down. Admissions to post-graduate courses which were already held up till the interim order of the Supreme Court on September 9, 2020, will not be affected by the judgment. Hence, those who have already been admitted to post-graduate courses till then shall be allowed to continue. All appointments made to public services in favor of the Maratha community after the judgment of the High Court till the interim order of the Supreme Court on September 9, 2020, are saved. The challenge to the 102nd Constitutional Amendment was dismissed.
It was further contended that after the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act which came into force with effect from August 2018, the State legislature is denuded of its power to declare a particular class to be socially and educationally backward. Article 342A calls for the identification of communities in the States as socially and educationally backward classes by the President, in consultation with the Governor of the state.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said that the SC has suggested that Article 342A of the Constitution calls for the identification of communities in states as socially and educationally backward classes by the President, in consultation with the Governor of the state. In that case, the President of India and the prime minister can certainly intervene in the matter. As such I request with folded hands to the PM and President to intervene in the matter. The PM should show the same courage which he exhibited while scrapping article 370 to create Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh into union territories, he added.
In another development Advocate Jayashri Patil and her husband Gunratan Sadavarte, who were spearing heading campaign against Maratha reservation said that they have been receiving threats from different Maratha leaders and if anything goes wrong against them, then Maratha leaders will be responsible for that.