Maratha Quota Struck Down by SC

News: Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) declared a Maharashtra law which provides reservation benefits to the Maratha community, taking the quota limit in the State in excess of 50%, as unconstitutional.

Background:

  • In 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).
  • In 2018 Maharashtra Assembly passed a Bill proposing 16% reservation for Maratha community. In the same year 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.
  • In 2020 the SC stayed its implementation and referred the case to Chief Justice of India for a larger bench.

Revisiting Indra Sawhney Judgement:

  • One of the key issues was to examine whether the 1992 landmark ruling by nine-judge bench in Indra Sawhney v Union of India had to be revisited.
  • First, it said that the criteria for a group to qualify for reservation is “social and educational backwardness”. Second, it reiterated the 50% limit to vertical quotas reasoning that it 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.

Why Maratha Quota didn’t qualify for being ‘Exceptional Circumstances’?

  • The Marathas are dominant forward class and are in the main stream of National life. Hence, the court observed that the above situation is not an extra-ordinary. A separate reservation for the Maratha community violates Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (due process of law). Reservation breaching the 50% limit will create a society based on “caste rule”.

Who will decide on the list of SEBCs?

  • There will only be a single list of SEBC with respect to each State and Union Territory notified by the President of India, and that States can only make recommendations for inclusion or exclusion, with any subsequent change to be made only by Parliament.
  • The Bench unanimously upheld the constitutional validity of the 102ndConstitution Amendment but differed on the question whether it affected the power of states to identify SEBCs.

Does it curtail states’ power?

  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment) Act, 2018gives constitutional status to the National Backward Classes Commission. 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 Supreme Court held that “the final say in regard to inclusion or exclusion (or modification of lists) of SEBCs is firstly with the President, and thereafter, in case of modification or exclusion from the lists initially published, with the Parliament”.
  • The Supreme Court also issued a direction under Article 142 of the Constitution of India which says that till the publication of the fresh list the existing lists will continue to operate.