– Dipta Joshi
The Maratha community in Maharashtra will now be accommodated in the 10 percent quota originally set aside for the state’s Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). The quota extension comes in weeks after the Supreme Court (SC) (May 5) order striking down the state government’s Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act (SEBC) (2018) that offered 12 percent reservations for the community in public education and 13 percent in government employment.
The 10 percent pan-India EWS quota was announced by the Central government in 2019 to reserve seats in education and jobs for persons having an annual income less than Rs 8 lakh and not covered by any existing quota. Extending the quota for Maratha candidates, the state government’s order (dated May 31) issued by the general administration department (GAD) states that persons fulfilling the EWS criteria while not belonging to backward castes (as defined by the state) would be eligible for a seat from the 10 percent quota in state government recruitments and educational institutes (expect minority institutes). The order is also applicable retrospectively from September 9, 2020 when the Supreme Court brought the interim stay on the Maratha reservations to May 5, 2021 when the final verdict was announced. It will also be applicable in selection processes announced before September 9, 2020 wherein no appointments have been made.
The Maharashtra’s tri-party Vikas Aghadi government’s order comes in the backdrop of the opposition’s pressure regarding the state’s failure to win the SC litigation and ensure reservations for the Maratha community. The state’s powerful Maratha organisations have also threatened state-wide agitations unless the government finds a solution agreeable to them.
Setting aside reservations for Marathas who classify themselves as a backward community has been a long-standing demand in the state. Making up 32 percent of the state’s 115 million population the Maratha community wields electoral power that no political party can afford to overlook – the state has had 10 chief ministers from the community so far and the community has a strong hold on the state’s sugar and milk cooperatives, cooperative banks and private educational institutions.
In November 2018, the previous Bhartiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena (BJP-Shiv Sena) coalition government had passed the SEBC Act (2018) sanctioning 16 percent quota to Marathas which was later pared down to 12 percent reservations in public education and 13 percent in government employment following an order by the Bombay high court (June 2019). However, the government sanction led the state’s total reservations in higher education institutions to go beyond 75 percent and also breach the 50 percent ceiling for all reserved quotas imposed by the Supreme Court in Indira Sawhney’s Case (1993). Thus the Apex Court first put a stay on the Act (September 2020) and then scrapped the Act during its final judgement (May 2021) calling it “unconstitutional”. The Court had also questioned the Maharashtra government’s reasoning for reservations saying it found “no extra-ordinary situation” for declaring the community as socially and educationally backward.
Last year, in a bid to appease the Maratha community, the government suspended class XI or first year junior college (FYJC) online admissions the day after (September 10) the SC brought an interim stay on the Maratha reservations in government higher education institutions. Waiting to get the additional quota validated by the SC, the FYJC college academic calendar which begins classes in August-September was delayed by three months until November 24 when a Bombay high court division bench passed strictures against the state government forcing it to proceed with the pending online admissions.
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