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'There Is No Constitutional Bar To Reservation Exceeding 50%' : Bombay HC In Maratha Quota Case [Read Judgment]

Nitish Kashyap
28 Jun 2019 8:14 AM GMT

It is for the authority appointed by the State to identify the backward class of citizens to adopt such approach and procedure as it thinks appropriate.

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The Bombay High Court on Thursday upheld the reservation for Maratha Community but set aside the quantum of reservation mandated at 16% for the Maratha Community under the new act, even though the State Backward Class Commission had recommended 12% reservation in employment and 13% reservation in educational institutions

In the 487-page judgment authored by Justice Ranjit More, Court made observations about the Maratha community and their claim to reservation-

"Though the community is politically well represented, the various reports including the report of the Committee headed by Justice Gaikwad Commission suggest that huge chunks of Maratha is still deprived of basic facilities.

The report of a research study carried out by Gokhale Institute of Economics disclose that 40% of the total farmers who committed suicide were Marathas and this report is a reflection of the agrarian crisis in the State and since most of the Marathas are agriculturists, it brings forth the financial distress faced by the community. In the backdrop of the said scenario, the youth of this community is looking towards reservation as a solution to their progress and march towards cities and that is the reason why the community joined hands to track their demand."

The judgment went on to state : 

"The State witnessed mixed reaction to the claim of Marathas which came to be objected by the Other Backward Classes as they are anxious that their share is being eaten up by the newly created class and again, there are open category candidates who are apprehensive that merit would receive a setback. The emergent situation makes us think whether we have lost the battle of annihilation of castes proposed by our founding fathers."

Court referred to the Apex Court's judgement in the Indira Sawhney Case and noted that under the said judgement identification of backward class of citizens is left to the appropriate authority appointed by the State.

"The Apex Court also held that there is no set or recognized method in identification of the backward class of citizens and there is no law or other statutory instrument prescribing the methodology. The Apex Court further held that it is for the authority appointed by the State to identify the backward class of citizens to adopt such approach and procedure as it thinks appropriate."

Moreover, Court noted :

"The Commission having regard to the principles set out by the Hon'ble Apex Court while interpreting Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India, in order to determine the social, educational and economic backwardness of the Maratha community, considered 26 contemporary parameters to ascertain social backwardness and incorporated them in the questionnaire."

After examining the 1035-page report submitted by Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) in detail, Court concurred with the findings of the commission that Maratha is a backward class.

However, referring to the 50% cap on reservation for backward classes, Court said-

"We are confronted with the rival claim as to whether 50% limit for reservation of the backward classes of citizens, including the Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribe exists in the constitutional frame work".

Going back to the majority view in the Indira Sawhney judgement, the bench held-

"There is no constitutional bar to the reservation exceeding more than 50%. Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India and more particularly Articles 15(4) and 16(4) being the enabling provisions for advancement of socially and educationally backward class of citizens and the power exercised by the State, in this regard, is to be circumscribed in limited sphere of judicial review, in order to test the bona fides of State.

We are therefore, inclined to hold that it is ultimately the State on whom the burden is cast to justify the excess reservation and since the 50% ceiling limit is not exhaustive of all the categories. As Justice Jeevan Reddy has expressed in the majority view that the extent of reservation depends upon the proportion of backward classes to the total population and their representation in public services. It is also by now settled that backwardness being a relative term, it must be judged by the general level of advancement of the entire population of the country or the State, as the case may be, and therefore, determination of backwardness is best left to the respective State."

Finally, Court concluded that the quantum of reservation at 16% was not justified -

"The action of the State Government in not accepting the recommendation on quantum of reservation and prescribing the reservation of 16% to the community cannot be sustained, over and above the percentage recommended by the Commission."

In conclusion, the Court observed :

"[1] We hold and declare that the State possess the legislative competence to enact the Maharashtra State Reservation for Seats for Admission in Educational Institutions in the State and for appointments in the public services and posts under the SEBC Act, 2018 and State's legislative competence is not in any way affected by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act 2018 and the interim order passed by this Court in Writ Petition No. 3151 of 2014. We resultantly uphold the impugned enactment except to the extent of quantum of reservation as set out in point no. 6.

[2] We conclude that the report of the MSBCC under the Chairmanship of Justice Gaikwad is based on quantifiable and contemporaneous data and it has conclusively established the social, economic and educational backwardness of the Maratha community and it has also established the inadequacy of representation of the Maratha community in public employment/posts under the State. Accordingly, we uphold the MSBCC report.

[3] We hold and declare that the classification of the Maratha class into "Socially and Educationally Backward Class" complies the twin test of reasonable classification permissible under Article 14 of the Constitution of India, namely, (a) intelligible differentia and (b) rational nexus to the object sought to be achieved.

[4] We hold and declare that the limit of the reservation should not exceed 50%, however in exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situations, this limit can be crossed subject to availability of quantifiable and contemporaneous data reflecting backwardness, the inadequacy of representation and without affecting the efficiency in administration.

[5] We hold and declare that the report of the Gaikwad Commission has set out the exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situations justifying crossing of the limit of 50% reservation as set out in Indra Sawhney's case.

[6] We hold and declare that the State Government in the exercise of its enabling power under Articles 15(4)(5) and 16(4) of the Constitution of India is justified, in the backdrop of the report of MSBCC, in making provision for a separate reservation to Maratha community. We, however, hold that the quantum of reservation set out by the Maharashtra State Reservation for Seats for Admission in Educational Institutions in the State and for appointments in the public services and posts under the State (for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes) SEBC Act, 2018, in section 4(1)(a) and 4(1)(b) as 16% is not justifiable and resultantly we quash and set aside the quantum of reservation under the said provisions over and above 12% and 13% respectively as recommended by the Commission". 

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