The Supreme Court Hears Petitions Against the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Reservation Act

It was for the Government to take a decision on whether caste and reservations should go.

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The landmark Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India Judgement was discussed in the Supreme Court while hearing petitions challenging Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act 2018. The Act which had extended a 16% reservation for the Maratha community and was challenged at the Supreme Court of India.On March 25, 2021 which was the ninth day of this hearing, the Constitutional Bench reportedly observed that ‘ it was for the Government to take a decision on whether caste and reservations should go.’ ‘A 5-Judge Constitution Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, S. Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat remarked that these were policy matters and were in the domain of the Parliament as well as the Legislature. It was further noted that this could be the beginning of all reservations going, with only a quota for Economically Weaker Sections remaining,’ reported live law. 

The discussion in the Courtroom yesterday revolved around the necessity of caste based reservations to begin with and also touched upon the relevance of the landmark Indra Shawney Vs. Union of India Judgement of the Apex Court in 1993. According to a Live Law report advocate Shriram P. Pingle, in an intervention application stated that the Indra Shawney judgement was being utilised as grounds for making extensions for the reservations. 

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Mandal Commission in 1970 recommended that, besides the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) which constitute nearly 52% component of the population, 27% government jobs be reserved so that the total reservation for all, SCs, STs and OBCs, amounts to 50%. In 1989, the Janata Party came to power and they issued an office Memoranda in order to implement the recommendations.Following the severe protests against this and fall of the Janata Party government the said memorandum came to light when the Narasimha Rao government in 1991 introduced economic criterion by providing importance to the poorer sections of Social and Educationally Backward classes.

The Rao government  inserted 10% reservations to the Educationally Backward classes of the Higher caste people. the constitutional validity of the memorandum came to be questioned in the Supreme Court through several writ petitions. The question of the constitutional validity of the memorandum was considered by a Bench of 9 Judges.

The court gave a decision with 6:3 majority held that the decision of the Government of India to reserve 27% of the jobs to the socially and economically backward classes in which the preference would be given to the poorer sections of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in the 27% a quota is held to be constitutionally valid. By this, the court thought that the creamy layer among the Socially and Economically Backward Classes would be eliminated.  But the court struck down the provision which provides 10% reservation for economically backward people among the higher castes as invalid. 

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Advocate Pingle was referring to the much discussed aspect of this judgement, i.e the 50 percent cap on reservation. In his submission to the Court Senior Advocate Shyam Divan differed from the argument of Pingle and noted that, if the 50 percent cap is removed then ‘there will be political pressure not to reduce reservations.’ 

In 2018, the Centre enacted the 102nd Constitution amendment Act, which inserted Article 338B (deals with the structure, duties and powers of National Commission of Backward Class) and 342A (power of the President to notify a particular caste as Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC)) and the power of Parliament to change the SEBC list. As a report in First Post notes, these amendments form the legal justification for the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, of Maharashtra, which was enacted to grant reservation to people of the Maratha community in the state in jobs and admissions. 

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