The Supreme Court has struck down the Maharashtra government’s reservations for the state’s Maratha community saying there was no extra-ordinary situation for declaring the community as socially and educationally backward. The Apex court also made it clear there was no need to re-examine its 1992 judgment in the Indra Sawhney v. Union of India case which prescribed a 50 percent ceiling on reservations.
The Court was hearing a bunch of petitions filed against the Maharashtra government’s Maratha reservations that saw the state exceeding the 50 percent ceiling on quotas. The Maharashtra government however denied the move being illegal since several other states (Tamil Nadu for instance) offered reservations beyond the 50 percent ceiling without the Apex Court staying their decisions. Several states as well as the Central government have supported Maharashtra in its appeal to have the authority to decide on the state’s quota requirements. There was an appeal to re-examine the Supreme Court’s earlier nine-bench Indra Sawhney v. Union of India verdict by referring it to a larger bench.
Saying the 2018 Act, violated the principles of equality, the constitution bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S Rabindra Bhat said, “The 2018 Act 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.” It further added it found no substance in the argument to refer the judgment in the Indra Sawhney case to a large bench since “the said judgment has been repeatedly followed by this Court and has received approval by at least four Constitution Benches of this Court.”
Enacted on November 2018, by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena (BJP-Shiv Sena) coalition government, the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act (SEBC) (2018), granted 16 percent quota to the state’s 32 percent Maratha community in public education and government employment. However, the Act was amended in 2019 when the Bombay high court (June 27, 2019) upheld the Act but trimmed the quotas to 12 percent in education and 13 percent in government jobs. The Bombay High Court judgment was challenged in the Supreme Court. On September 9, 2020 the Supreme Court had ordered an interim stay on the SEBC Act, 2018.
Quotas for Marathas who classify themselves as a backward community has been a long-standing issue in Maharashtra with successive governments promising Maratha reservations as part of their electoral manifestos. The 2018 Act was based on the recommendations of the 11-member Justice M.G. Gaikwad Committee that submitted its report in 2018. However, the Supreme Court today dismissed the findings of the Gaikwad Committee as “unsustainable”. Neither did it find the judgment of the Bombay High Court making an extra-ordinary case for the Maratha community so as to exceed the ceiling of 50 percent.
Following the state government’s judicial sanction of the 12 percent quota for Marathas in education institutions, total reservations in higher education institutions had risen to 75 percent after taking into consideration quota for scheduled castes (15 percent), scheduled tribes (7.5 percent), other backward castes (27 percent) and nomadic tribes (2.5). Another ten percent quota reserved by the Central government’s Economically Weaker Section Reservation Act, 2019, in January 2019 remains applicable to all states.
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