A three judge Bench of the Supreme Court has stayed the operation of the law enacted by the State of Maharashtra introducing Maratha Quota for admission in Educational Institutions and for appointments in the Public Services and posts, and has referred the issue to a Constitution Bench of 5 Judges as it involves interpretation of of the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018.
Maratha Quota Law and Bombay HC Judgment
The Maharashtra State Reservation (of 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, originally provided 16% quota to the Maratha community in education and jobs respectively. The Bombay High Court, while upholding the Maratha quota, held that 16% reservation is not justifiable and ruled that reservation should not exceed 12% in employment and 13% in education as recommended by Backward Commission.
Referred as the question involved require interpretation of the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018
According to the applicants [who filed application seeking reference to larger bench], Articles 338-B and 342-A inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 fall for consideration of the Court for the first time and that there is a need for reconsideration of the judgment of this Court in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India , especially after the Constitution (103rd) Amendment, 2019 introduced certain changes to the Constitution of India.
The bench headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao disagreed with the contention that these appeals require reference to a larger Bench on the ground of the extent of reservations. It said:
Undoubtedly, this Court in Indra Sawhney (supra) held that reservations contemplated in Article 16 (4) should not exceed 50 per cent except in certain extraordinary situations. This Court in Indra Sawhney (supra) was of the opinion that extreme caution has to be exercised and a special case must be made out for exceeding the limit of 50 per cent. The ceiling limit of 50 per cent on reservations has been re-affirmed by this Court in M. Nagaraj (supra). As the question relating to the extent of reservation has already been decided by this Court, it cannot be said that any substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution arises in this case.
The bench, also comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat, observed that it finds force in the contentions raised regarding the interpretation of the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018.
One of the issues that was considered by the High Court at the instance of the writ petitioners is whether the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 affects the competence of the State Legislature to declare a particular caste to be a socially and educationally backward class. According to the writ petitioners in the High Court, the State Legislature has been denuded of this power after the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 came into force. The High Court rejected the said contention and upheld the legislative competence of the State Legislature. There is no authoritative pronouncement on the interpretation of the provisions inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018. We are satisfied that interpretation of Articles 338-B and 342-A, which are inserted by Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018, involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution and the determination of such question is necessary for the disposal of the Appeal. Thus, as mandated by Article 145 (3) of the Constitution of India, these Appeals require to be considered by a larger Bench. In view of our decision to refer these Appeals to a larger Bench, we do not consider it necessary to adjudicate on the other points raised by the applicants.
While referring the matters to larger bench, the Court observed:
As the interpretation of the provisions inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 is a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution of India, these Appeals are referred to a larger Bench. These matters shall be placed before Hon'ble The Chief Justice of India for suitable orders.
To grant interim order, the bench observed that the State of Maharashtra has not shown any extraordinary situation for providing reservations to Marathas in excess of 50 per cent rule expounded in Indra Sawhney judgment. Maratha community which comprises of 30 per cent of the population in the State of Maharashtra cannot be compared to marginalized sections of the society living in far flung and remote areas, it said.