Maratha reservation: Supreme Court dismisses review petition filed by Central govt
Maratha reservation: Supreme Court dismisses review petition filed by Central govt
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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has thrown water on the quota politics, upholding its May 5 majority judgment on the Maratha reservation and dismissing the Centre's plea to review its decision that the states no longer have powers to declare socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC) for grant of quota in government jobs and admissions in higher education because of the 102nd Constitution amendment in 2018.

The Centre was snubbed for defending its own Central laws instead of finding fault with it. The Modi-government came under pressure from the BJP leaders as well as the Maharashtra government since the verdict nullified the reservation granted in the state to the Marathas.

The 102nd Constitution amendment Act of 2018 inserted Articles 338B, which deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Class (NCBC), while 342A deals with power of the President to notify a particular caste as SEBC and power of Parliament to change the list. It extinguished the role of the state governments in declaring any community as OBC for the purpose of reservation.

A five-judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, who relinquished the position on Wednesday on reaching the retirement age, issued the review judgment as one of his last acts as a judge. He said, “We have gone through the review petition filed against the judgment dated May 5, in Writ Petition... The grounds taken in the review petition do not fall within the limited ground on which review petition can be considered”.

The bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat, said that the various grounds taken in the review petition have already been dealt with in the main judgment.

“We do not find any sufficient grounds to entertain this review petition. The review petition is dismissed,” the bench said in its order uploaded on Thursday, though passed on Monday by the 5-judge Bench. It rejected the Centre’s application for open court hearing in the matter.

The review petition was hastily moved on May 13 by the Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment against the May 5 verdict of the SC that not only affected the Maratha reservation but also snatched away powers of all state governments to handle the OBC quotas.

On May 5, the 5-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan had unanimously set aside the Maharashtra law granting quota to the Marathas, refusing to refer to a larger bench the 1992 Mandal verdict putting a cap of 50% on the reservations.

In a 3:2 majority judgment, the top court ruled that the 102nd Constitution amendment, which also led to the setting up of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), gives exclusive power to the Centre to identify and declare SEBC as only the President can notify the list. All the five judges of the bench, however, had held the amendment as valid and said it did not affect the federal polity or violate the basic structure of the Constitution.

In its review plea, the Centre had said that the majority verdict had upheld the validity of Article 342A but in doing so, the bench has interpreted that the provision denudes the states from exercising the power which they undoubtedly have for identifying and declaring SEBC in their respective states.

The review petition was based on the minority verdict by two judges, including Justice Bhushan, that Article 342A does not have in any manner deprive states of their power and jurisdiction and competence to identify and declare the socially and educationally backward classes, which is the correct interpretation of Article 342A of the Constitution.

The majority verdict was rendered by Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat, while the minority verdict was of Justice Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, who said that under the constitution amendment both Centre and states have power to declare and identify SEBC.

Writing the majority judgement on this aspect, Justice Bhat had said, “By introduction of Articles 366 (26C) and 342A through the 102nd Constitution, the President alone, to the exclusion of all other authorities, is empowered to identify SEBCs and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1), which shall be deemed to include SEBCs in relation to each state and union territory for the purposes of the Constitution".

Justice Bhat had opined that the states can, through their existing mechanisms, or even statutory commissions, can only make suggestions to the President or the Commission, for "inclusion, exclusion or modification of castes or communities" in the SEBC list.

"The states'' power to make reservations, in favour of particular communities or castes, the quantum of reservations, the nature of benefits and the kind of reservations, and all other matters falling within the ambit of Articles 15 and 16 - except with respect to identification of SEBCs, remains undisturbed," the judgement, endorsed by two other judges had said.

The five-judge bench had also concurred on the issue that the Maharashtra law granting 12 and 13 per cent reservation for Maratha community in addition to 50 per cent social reservation is not covered by exceptional circumstances as contemplated in Mandal judgement.

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