SC Strikes Down Maratha Quota

Describing it as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court struck down the Maharashtra government law to reserve seats in government jobs and education institutions to Marathas.

SC held that there were “no exceptional circumstances” to breach the 50% reservation cap set by the Constitution Bench in the 1992 Mandal verdict. The top court also refused to refer the Mandal judgement to a larger bench for reconsideration saying that it has been upheld time and again by various verdicts of the SC.

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan concurred on three major issues, framed during the hearing, and said the MC Gaikwad Commission report which was the basis for the Maratha quota did not highlight any exceptional circumstances for grant of reservation to the community. The bench gave four verdicts, while concurring on three major issues including that the grant of Maratha quota was invalid.

Justices LN Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat concurred with Justice Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer in upholding the constitutional validity of the 102nd Amendment but held states cannot decide on the list of socially and educationally backward classes and only the President has the power to notify it. Justices Bhushan and Nazeer in their minority view said both the Centre and state have powers to decide on the list of SEBC. The majority verdict also directed the Centre to notify a fresh list of SEBCs, and said till the time notification is being issued the existing list will hold its place.

The SC, however, unanimously refused to refer the Mandal judgement to a larger bench for reconsideration on issues including permitting the state to breach the 50% ceiling on quota in extraordinary circumstances. It also clarified that appointments made in government jobs and admissions in post graduate courts after the Bombay HC verdict of 2019 upholding Maratha quota and September 9 order of the SC staying the implementation of quota will not be adversely affected.

The directions were passed on a batch of pleas challenging the HC verdict which had upheld the grant of reservation to Marathas in admissions and government jobs in the state. The 102nd Constitution Amendment Act of 2018 inserted Articles 338B, which deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Class, and 342A which deals with power of the President to notify a particular caste as SEBC and power of Parliament to change the list.

In March, SC had framed six questions for adjudication while terming the issue of interpretation of the 102nd Constitution Amendment as of seminal importance. Issuing notices to all the states, the top court had said that it proposes to consider whether the landmark verdict in the Indira Sawhney case, also known as the Mandal verdict, which caps the quota at 50%, require a reconsideration by a larger bench “in the light of subsequent Constitution amendments, judgements and changed social dynamics of the society”.

The SEBC Act, 2018, of Maharashtra was enacted to grant reservation to people of the Maratha community in the state in jobs and admissions. The HC, while upholding the law in June 2019, held that 16% reservation was not justifiable and the quota should not exceed 12% in employment and 13% in admissions.

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