The Supreme Court on Wednesday will pronounce its judgment on the constitutional validity of the Maratha reservation law which leads to quota in the State in excess of the 50% ceiling limit.
The Constitution Bench is led by Justice Ashok Bhushan and comprises Justices L. Nageswara Rao, S. Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat.
The Bench had also examined whether its nearly three-decade-old judgment in the Indira Sawhney case, which fixed reservation for the marginalised and the poor in government jobs and educational institutions at 50%, needs a re-look.
In 1992, a nine-judge Bench of the court had drawn the “Lakshman rekha” for reservation in jobs and education at 50%, except in “extraordinary circumstances”.
However, over the years, several States like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have crossed the rubicon and passed laws which allows reservation shooting over 60%.
The five-judge Bench had decided not to confine the question of reservation spilling over 50% limit to just Maharashtra.
The Bench had expanded the ambit of the case by making other States party and inviting them to make their stand clear on the question of whether reservation should continue to remain within the 50% boundary or not.
If the Bench decides that Indira Sawhney case needs a re-look, it would ideally have to refer the question to an 11-judge Bench.
The five-judge Bench heard arguments on whether the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018, which provides 12% to 13% quota benefits for the Maratha community, and thus, taking the reservation percentage in the State across the 50% mark was enacted under “extraordinary circumstances”.
The Indira Sawhney judgment had categorically said “50% shall be the rule, only in certain exceptional and extraordinary situations for bringing far-flung and remote areas population into mainstream said 50% rule can be relaxed”.
The court also discussed whether the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission under the chairmanship of Justice N.G. Gaikwad had made up a case of “extraordinary circumstances” of deprivation suffered by the Maratha community, requiring the helping hand of reservation even at the cost of crossing the 50% line.
In fact, the Bombay High Court had, in June 2019, reduced the quantum of reservation for the Marathas from the 16% recommended by the Gaikwad Commission to 12% in education and 13% in employment.
A significant question the Bench had looked into was whether the Constitution (One Hundred Second Amendment) Act of 2018, which introduced the National Commission for Backward Classes, interfered with the authority of State Legislatures to provide benefit to the social and educationally backward communities in their own jurisdiction.
The Constitution Amendment Act had introduced Articles 338B and 342A in the Constitution. Article 338B deals with the newly established National Commission for Backward Classes. Article 342A empowers the President to specify the socially and educationally backward communities in a State. It says it is for Parliament to include a community in the Central List for socially and backward classes for grant of reservation benefits.
The court also delved into the issue whether Article 342A strips State Legislatures of their discretionary power to include their backward communities in the State List.