SC strikes down Maratha reservation law, rules out review of 50% cap on quota

In a major decision, the Supreme Court on Wednesday termed the 2018 Maharashtra law, providing reservations to Marathas in jobs and education, as unconstitutional, and struck it down for violating the 50 per cent cap on quota and the fundamental right to equality.

A five-judge Constitution bench, by a unanimous view, also ruled out any need to reconsider the 1992 nine-judge bench judgement in Indra Sawhney (Mandal Commission) case, which fixed 50 per cent ceiling on reservation. “We have found that no extraordinary circumstances were made out in granting separate reservation of Maratha community by exceeding the 50 per cent ceiling limit of reservation,” the top court noted.

The 569-page verdict may likely have far-reaching consequences on pending challenges to the validity of the Centre’s 10 percent Economic Weaker Section quota, and Tamil Nadu’s law for up to 69 percent reservation for the OBC. Against the backdrop of this verdict, the governments would have to prove exceptional circumstances to support their move.

The top court said the 2018 Maharashtra Act violates the principle of equality as enshrined in Article 16. The exceeding of ceiling limit without there being any extra-ordinary circumstances clearly violates Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution which makes the enactment ultra vires, it added.

Several states had demanded review for the nine-judge bench decision in view of subsequent developments and change in social dynamics.

But the court stayed unmoved.

Justice Ashok Bhushan writing on behalf of himself, and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer said: “There can be no quarrel that society changes, law changes, and people change but that does not mean that something which is good and proven to be beneficial in maintaining equality in the society should also be changed in the name of change alone.”

The Constitution bench, presided over by Justice Bhushan, observed that the pre-condition for breaching 50 per cent limit on quota under Article 16(4) like extra-ordinary and exceptional circumstances was not fulfilled in granting 12 percent and 13 percent reservation to Marathas in jobs and education, respectively.

“The representation of Marathas in public services in Grade A, B, C and D comes to 33.23 per cent, 29.03 per cent, 37.06 per cent and 36.53 per cent, computed from out of the open category filled posts, is adequate and satisfactory representation of Maratha community,” it noted.

“One community bagging such number of posts in public services is a matter of pride for the community and its representation in no manner can be said to not adequate in public services,” the top court said, also pointing out that Gaikwad Commission’s data showed that Marathas are not a socially and educationally backward class.

The other judges on the bench — Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat agreed that Maratha quota was unconstitutional, and no review of 50 per cent cap is required.

The five-judge Constitution bench upheld validity of the 102nd Amendment which granted constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes.

However, Justices Bhushan and Nazeer’s point of view of was not agreed by other three judges who held the state was empowered to identify the backward class for granting quota.

Justice Rao said there is no obscurity in Article 342 A (1), instead it very clear that there should be one list of socially and educationally backward classes which may be issued by the President.