MAHARASHTRA RESERVATION JUDGMENT BY DEEPIKA DUBEY

                                                      MAHARASHTRA RESERVATION JUDGEMENT

 

On May 5, 2021, in Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v Chief Minister, Maharashtra, the constitutional validity of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 (which grants reservation to the Maratha Community) was challenged.  A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice L. Nageswara Rao, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, Justice Hemant Gupta, and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat struck down the reservation provided to the Maratha Community which exceeded the 50 percent ceiling laid down in the landmark Indra Sawhney judgment (1992). The bench held that the 50 percent ceiling provided in the Indra Sawhney case need not be revisited because “To change the 50% limit is to have a society which is not founded on equality but is based on caste rule”. Furthermore, since democracy is a part of the basic structure of our constitution, if the reservation goes above the 50 percent limit, then it shall be unconstitutional. 

 

The Indra Sawhney judgment had further laid down that the reservation can exceed the 50 percent limit in case of “extraordinary circumstances/ extra-ordinary situation”. However, the Supreme Court observed that the Maratha reservation quota does not fall within the exception provided in the Indra Sawhney judgment and hence it was held to be unconstitutional.  

 

Based upon the recommendations of the Justice Gaikwad Commission, the Maharashtra Government passed the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 that provided 16 percent reservation to the Maratha Community in Maharashtra’s state educational institutions and appointments to public service. However, the commission had recommended 12% and 13% reservation for the Marathas in educational institutions and appointments in public service respectively. 

 

When the aforementioned act was challenged before the Bombay High Court for breaching the 50 percent ceiling laid down in the Indra Sawhney judgment, the court upheld the constitutional validity of the act. It reasoned that: 

 

  1. State governments have the power to exceed the 50% ceiling limit in case of extraordinary circumstances.
  2. The report given by Justice Gaikwad Commission was based on scientific data which properly justifies the reason for including Marathas within the ambit of socially and educationally backward class as well as the extraordinary condition for creating reservation exceeding the 50% limit.

 

However, the high court held that the act should not prescribe reservation exceeding the recommendation of the Justice Gaikwad Commission (i.e., 12% and 13% reservation for the Marathas in educational institutions and appointments in public service, respectively.). Therefore, it struck down sections 4(1)(a) -(b) of the Act that provided for 16 % reservation

 

In July 2019, an appeal was filed before the Apex Court against the judgment of the Bombay High Court. The following six issues were taken into consideration by the Supreme Court:

 

  • Whether the judgment in the case of Indra Sawhney v Union of India needs to be revisited or reconsidered by a larger bench on account of recent amendments in the constitution, changes in the social dynamics of the society, etc.?

 

  • Whether granting 12% and 13% reservation to Maratha community in educational institutions and appointments to public service, respectively as per the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 (as amended in 2019) in addition to 50% social reservation falls under the ambit of “exceptional circumstances” as contemplated by the court in the Indra Sawhney case?

 

  • Whether the State Government on the strength of Maharashtra State Backward Commission Report chaired by M.C. Gaikwad has made out a case of existence of extraordinary situations and exceptional circumstances in the State to fall within the exception carved out in the judgment of Indra Sawhney?

 

  • Whether the one hundred and the second amendment of the constitution deprives the state legislature of its power to enact legislation determining the socially and educationally backward classes and of conferring benefits on such a community?

 

  • Whether Article 342(A) read with Article 366(26c) of the Indian Constitution abridges the power of the State to legislate in relation to “any backward class” under Articles 15(4) and Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India. 

 

  • Whether Article 342A of the Constitution abrogates State’s power to legislate or classify in respect of “any backward class of citizens” and thereby affects the federal policy/structure of the Constitution of India?”

 

The view of the bench on issues 1, 2, and 3 was unanimous. They held that the 50% ceiling limit for reservations (as laid down in the Indra Sawhney case) need not be reconsidered. The Bench said that the Indra Sawhney judgment “has stood the test of time and has never been doubted by any judgment of this Court” and it too was bound by it. The court agreed that society is dynamic and is constantly evolving 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”. Furthermore, the Gaikwad Commission, the judgment of the Bombay High Court, or even the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, all fail to prove that the reservation quota provided to Marathas (that exceeded the 50% limit) falls within the exception of “extraordinary situation”. Therefore, the contention of the Maharashtra State Government in this regard that the increase in the number of suicides due to indebtedness and the deteriorating incomes of the Maratha families falls under the category of “exceptional circumstances” was rejected. 

 

The Court also raised doubt on the findings of the Gaikwad Commission and observed that we are of the view that the conclusion drawn by the Commission is not supportable from the data collected. While the foundation itself is unsustainable, the formation of an opinion by the State Government to grant separate reservation to the Marathas exceeding the 50 percent limit is unsustainable.

 

Therefore, the provision of the Socially and Educationally Backward classes Act (SEBC Act) that identifies and grants reservation to Marathas was struck down. 

 

As regards issues 4, 5, and 6, Justice Rao, Justice Gupta, and Justice Bhat were in agreement. In their opinion, the 102nd Constitutional amendment did take away the power of the State to identify backward classes. According to them, only the President of India has the power to identify the backward classes and to notify a list that can be amended by the Parliament. States are only allowed to make recommendations. Also, the amendment in no way violated the basic structure of the constitution. On the other hand, Justice Bhushan and Justice Nazeer had a different views. In their opinion, the States have the power to identify the backward classes and the Parliament has no intention to take this power away from the States. 

 

Therefore, the Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the Bombay High Court. As the case involved substantial questions of law regarding the interpretation of the Constitution, it was referred to a larger bench. Furthermore, it was held that the status of those who have availed of the benefits will not be disturbed. This implies that admissions to PG medical, engineering, and other streams as well as appointments in public service (granted to the members of the Maratha community) that were completed after the decision of the Bombay High Court (until September 9, 2020), “are saved”. 

 

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