Maratha Reservation: 50 percent cap breach not tenable

Mumbai: The Bill unanimously passed by both houses of the State legislature reserving 16 per cent government jobs and seats in educational institutions for Marathas is likely to be struck down by the Bombay High Court as it breaches the 50 per cent cap imposed in 1992 by the Supreme Court.

The Apex Court had then held in the Indira Sawhney case that the Constitution recognizes only social and educational backwardness. And definitely not economic backwardness. This quota for Marathas converts the open and general category into a minority category with only 16 per cent seats for them, pushing up cut-offs in medical, engineering and law colleges, thereby diluting merit in the name of uplifting the socially educationally backward Marathas, who have contributed 90 per cent of the State’s chief ministers.

There is no doubt that 80 per cent of the farmers who committed suicide belong to the Maratha caste which is a blanket term for Kunbis, Kolis, peasants, soldiers from Shivaji’s era and ironworkers who live below the poverty line. But rather than create more jobs, the BJP-Shiv Sena dispensation has chosen to emulate the Congress-NCP whose law creating a quota for Marathas was struck down by a bench led by the then chief justice of Bombay High Court Mohit Shah (in July 2014).

The BJP-Shiv Sena combine appealed against this verdict to the Supreme Court five months later which vacated the stay of the high court on reservations granted to the Marathas. The concept of equality before the law as enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution does not imply absolute equality for all citizens but absence of privilege by reason of birth, religion, community or the like which the new Bill directly infringes. Citizens cannot be discriminated on the ground of race, religion or social status even though this bill seeks to uplift the underprivileged Maratha caste.

It is true that both houses of the legislature have sought to bypass this hurdle by creating a special category called the SEBs for the Marathas but, nevertheless, the 50 per cent cap has been crossed which negates the fundamental right to livelihood of the open and general category. The reservations for the OBCs also remain untouched but all Marathas are not socially or educationally backward, as proven by the number of chief ministers who have taken oath in the state. Devendra Fadnavis is the first Brahmin chief minister of the state.

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