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Supreme Court’s Maratha Quota Verdict

Supreme Court’s Maratha Quota Verdict

Why in news?

  • A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has struck down the Maharashtra law granting reservation to the Maratha community in admissions and government jobs in the state.

Background

  • 2017: A 11-member commission headed by Retired Justice N G Gaikwad recommended Marathas should be given reservation under Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC).
  • 2018: Maharashtra Assembly passed a Bill proposing 16% reservation for Maratha community.
  • 2018: The Bombay High Court while upholding the reservation pointed out that instead of 16% it should be reduced to 12% in education and 13%in jobs.
  • 2020: The SC stayed its implementation and referred the case to Chief Justice of India for a larger bench.

Bench On Revisiting The Indra Sawhney Ruling

  • One of the key issues before the court was to examine whether the 1992 landmark ruling in Indra Sawhney v Union of India had to be revisited.
  • The Indra Sawhney ruling by a nine-judge Bench, in which the Mandal Commission report was upheld, laid down two important precedents:
    • it said that the criteria for a group to qualify for reservation is “social and educational backwardness”
    • it reiterated the 50% limit to vertical quotas reasoning that was needed to ensure “efficiency” in administration
  • However, the court said that this 50% limit will apply unless in “exceptional circumstances.”
  • The Maratha quota exceeded the 50% ceiling.
  • The state governments asked the court for reconsidering the Indra Sawhney verdict as it laid down an arbitrary ceiling which the Constitution does not envisage.
  • Additionally, in some judgements subsequent to Indra Sawhney, the Supreme Court itself had made exceptions to this rule.
  • In a unanimous opinion in the recent verdict, the court held that there is no need to revisit the Indra Sawhney ruling.
  • The court said that the 50% ceiling, although an arbitrary determination by the court in 1992, is now constitutionally recognised.

Bench On Whether The Maratha Law Can Be Saved Under The Exception

  • Since the 50% ceiling is held valid, the court looked into whether the Maratha quota law falls under the exceptional circumstances contemplated in Indra Sawhney’s case.
  • The court also looked into the Maharashtra State Backward Commission report that the Maharashtra government had relied on while granting reservations.
  • State Government Arguments that Since the population of backward class is 85% in Maharashtra State and reservation limit is only 50%, an increase in reservation limit would qualify as an extraordinary circumstance.
  • All five judges disagreed with the above argument.
  • The bench also found that the M.G. Gaikwad Commission too did not articulate any exceptional circumstances to justify the excess quota.                            Supreme Court’s Maratha Quota Verdict
  • SC held that Marathas are dominant forward class and are in the main stream of National life. The above situation is not an extra-ordinary.

What has the court said on state’s power to identify SEBCs, and 102nd Amendment?

  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment) Act, 2018 gives constitutional status to the National Backward Classes Commission.                        Supreme Court’s Maratha Quota Verdict
  • The Amendment also gives the President powers to notify backward classes.
  • Several states raised questions on the interpretation of the Amendment and argued that it curtails their powers.
  • However, the Bench unanimously upheld the constitutional validity of the 102nd Amendment.
  • The majority opinion also said that while the identification of SEBCs will be done centrally, state governments retain power to determine the extent of reservation and make specific policy in the spirit of “cooperative federalism”.                                    Supreme Court’s Maratha Quota Verdict

Significance Of This Judgement

  • In striking down the separate reservation, the Supreme Court has underscored the importance of adhering to the 50% limit on total reservation.
  • It has also upheld the need to justify any excess by showing the existence of exceptional circumstances.
  • The Court has not only found no merit in the Maratha claim to backwardness but also said the community is adequately represented in public services.

About Marathas

  • It is a politically dominant community in Maharashtra comprising mainly peasants and landowners and forms nearly one-third of the population of the state.
    Majority of the Chief Ministers of the state have been from this community since the formation of the state in 1960.
  • Marathas are mostly Marathi-speaking but not all Marathi-speaking people belong to the Maratha community.
  • Historically, they have been identified as a ‘warrior’ caste with large land-holdings.
  • While the division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline of prosperity among the middle class and lower-middle-class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy.                                  Supreme Court’s Maratha Quota Verdict

Existing Total Reservation in Maharashtra

  • Following the 2001 State Reservation Act, the total reservation was 52%.
  • This included quotas for SCs (13%), STs (7%), OBCs (19%), Special Backward Class (2%), Vimukta Jati (3%), Nomadic Tribe B (2.5%), Nomadic Tribe C-Dhangar (3.5%) and Nomadic Tribe D-Vanjari (2%).
  • The quotas for Nomadic Tribes and Special Backward Classes have been carved out of the total OBC quota.
  • With the addition of 12-13% Maratha quota, the total reservation in the state is 64-65%.
  • The 10% Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota is also effective in the state.

 

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