The Supreme Court on Wednesday said after the insertion of Article 342A in the Constitution, the Centre alone is empowered to identify Socially and Economically Backward Class (SEBC).
It emphasised that the Centre could include a community in a list, which is supposed to be published under Article 342A (1), specifying the SEBCs in each state and Union Territory.
“By introduction of Articles 366 (26C) and 342A through the 102nd Constitution Amendment of India, 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,” it held.
The top court added that the states can, through their existing mechanisms, or even statutory commissions, only make suggestions to the President or the Backward Class Commission under Article 338B, for inclusion, exclusion or modification of castes or communities, in the list to be published under Article 342A (1).
The verdict was delivered by a Constitution Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, S. Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat by a 3:2 majority. Justices Rao, Gupta and Bhat supported the proposition while Justices Bhushan and Nazeer dissented.
However, the court also said: “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.”
Article 342A was inserted into the Constitution by way of the 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act. It reads: “The President may with respect to any State or Union Territory, and where it is a State, after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, specify the socially and educationally backward classes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be socially and educationally backward classes in relation to that State or Union territory, as the case may be.”
The top court struck down the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 which extended reservation to the Maratha community in public education and employment.
A five-judge bench presided over by Justice Bhushan also upheld validity of the 102nd Amendment giving constitutional status to National Backward Classes Commission.
“The Constitution 102nd Amendment Act, 2018 does not violate any basic feature of the Constitution. We uphold the constitutional validity of Constitution (One Hundred and second Amendment) Act, 2018,” said Justice Bhushan along with Justice Nazeer.