The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the reservation for Marathas in education and jobs in Maharashtra under the State's 2018 Act, but with a rider that those who have already benefited will not be affected.
The 3-judge Bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao also referred the matter to a larger Constitution Bench to be set up by the Chief Justice.
The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018, was enacted by the then BJP-led coalition government to grant reservation to Maratha community in jobs and admissions. The current Shiv Sena dispensation is backing reservation to the hilt.
The Bench held that no appointments and admissions based on the quota will be made for 2020-21, as committed by the state government during the hearing, but there will be no tinkering with the postgraduate admissions that have already taken place.
The stakeholders had asked the Bench to refer the matter to an 11-judge Bench since a 9-judge Bench had already held in the Indra Sahwney case that 50% cap on reservation cannot be breached. The Bench, however, left it to the CJI to determine the size of the Constitution Bench.
The petitioners had challenged the Bombay High Court judgment in June last year upholding the Act but reducing the quota to 12 and 13 per cent, respectively, in government jobs and education. Their contention was that the Act violates the principle laid down on the 50% ceiling in 1992.
The counsel seeking reference to a large bench stressed that this is necessary since many states have already breached the 50% ceiling; to buttress his argument he cited the 103rd Constitution amendment that provides 10% reservation to the EWS (economically weaker sections). Since the EWS reservation has been already referred to a Constitution Bench, they said the same process should be followed on the issue of Marathas.
The stand taken by the Maharashtra government and other appellants backing Maratha reservation was resisted by other parties, which contended that the petitions challenging Bombay High Court judgment be decided by the three-judge bench itself. They argued that Marathas are not socially and educationally backward, and in the first instance are not eligible for reservation.
If it is held that Marathas are not socially and educationally backward, then the question of breaching the 50% ceiling would not arise and consequently there would be no need to refer it to a larger bench, they had contended.
In the case of the then UPA government extending OBC reservation to Jats in nine States in 2014, the Supreme Court, while quashing the March 4, 2014 notification, had said: "We can't agree that politically organised Jats are backward class so as to be entitled to OBC reservation."
"Inclusion of politically organised class such as Jats ... can't be affirmed", the court had said in its March 17, 2015, judgment. "Caste alone can't be the basis for reservation. We have to move towards contemporary criteria," it had said, citing the inclusion of transgender as backwards.