SC strikes down Maratha reservation law for exceeding 50% cap

NEW DELHI: A 5-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, on Wednesday held the Maratha reservation, more than the 50% ceiling limit fixed by a 9-judge Bench in the Indra Sawhney case, as illegal.

The court also found no 'exceptional circumstances' to justify the grant of reservation to the Marathas. "Neither the Gaikwad Commission, nor the (Bombay) High Court, have highlighted an exceptional situation for exceeding the ceiling of 50% reservation,’’ the court held. (The State had provided reservation to members of the Maratha community in government jobs and higher education.)

The court further struck down the special provision made under the Maharashtra Socially and Economically Backward Class Act, 2018, as violative of the principle of equality.

The court also rejected the plea to refer to a larger Bench of nine or eleven judges for reconsideration the verdict in 1992 in the Indra Sawhney case, which had placed the 50% cap on reservations in government jobs and education. The court refused to review "the legal precedent that has, for three decades now, held the ceiling as inviolable."

The Bench, also comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao, S. Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat, also upheld the validity of the 102nd Constitutional Amendment and ruled that the Centre alone has the powers to determine the socially & educationally backward classes (SEBCs) and the states can't have a separate list as the power is only with the President to notify the list of SEBCs, who shall be guided by the National Commission on Backward Classes, constituted through this constitutional amendment.

Terming it a matter of “seminal importance”, the bench had also heard the Centre and several states on the necessity of reviewing the mandate laid down in the Indra Sawhney case. The 1992 judgment also barred reservation solely on economic criterion that many states used even thereafter to help out the communities still reeling under extreme poverty.

Most states, including Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, were in favour of breaching the 50% ceiling, claiming that even after seven decades of the Independence, several classes and communities were deprived of development. They were united in the Supreme Court in asking for a review of the 1992 verdict. The Apex Court, however, did not heed to their demand.

The organisations, which appeared before the Bench in support of the 50% ceiling, pointed out that since 1992, no judgment by the top court had questioned the sanctity of the 50% rule. Instead, they argued that subsequent judgments have followed the Indra Sawhney’s ruling.

During one of the hearings, the bench also wondered for how long reservation should be allowed to continue.

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