Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Thursday upheld the constitutional validity of the reservation awarded to the Maratha community in government jobs and education, but said the quota percentage should be reduced from 16% to 12% to 13% as recommended by the State Backward Classes Commission (SEBC).
The court was hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the Maharashtra government's decision to grant 16% quota to the community in government jobs and educational institutions.
A division bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre said the quota percentage should be reduced as recommended by the State Backward Classes Commission (SEBC). The commission in it report earlier had recommended 12% quota in education and 13% in jobs.
"We hold and declare that the state government possesses legislative competence to create a separate category of the Socially and Educationally Backward Class and grant reservation," the court said. "We, however, have held that the 16% should be reduced to 12% to 13% as recommended by the commission."
The court further held that the state's legislative competence is not affected by the amendment to Article 342(a) of the Constitution. As per the 102nd amendment to Article 342(a), reservation can be granted only if a particular community is named in the list prepared by the President of India.
"We conclude that the report submitted by the State Backward Classes Commission was based on quantifiable data and was correct in classifying the Maratha community as socially and educationally backward," the bench said in its judgment.
The court said it was aware the Supreme Court in the past said the quota should not exceed 50%. "However, in exceptional circumstances, the 50 per cent (limit) can be exceeded if it is based on quantifiable data," it said.
Leaders hail High Court order
The ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine leaders in Maharashtra, led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, on Thursday hailed the Bombay High Court's decision.
Speaking in the Legislative Assembly in its monsoon session, Fadnavis said it is a matter of happiness that the high court has upheld his government's decision to grant quota to the community.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Chhagan Bhujbal also expressed happiness. "We welcome the decision. The matter has ended once and for all. There were several agitations for this. Many had committed suicide," he said. "This is a victory for not just the government, but the entire state, all the opposition parties. We had all unanimously passed the bill."
Soon after the judgment was delivered,the state government told the court that it has already granted admissions in post graduate medical courses under the reservation up to 16%.
Government counsel VA Thorat sought permission to let the percentage remain 16% for these courses this year. The bench asked the government to file a separate application for this.
On November 30 last year, the Maharashtra legislature passed a bill proposing 16% reservation in education and government jobs for the Marathas under the SEBC category. Several petitions were filed in the high court challenging the reservation, while a few others were filed in support of the quota.
The reservation will be in addition to the existing 52% reservation in the state.
On February 6, a division bench of Justices More and Dangre commenced hearing in all the petitions. In April this year, the court closed the petitions for verdict. The government, while defending its decision, had said reservation was only to bring up the Maratha community which was neglected since long.
The petitioners challenging the quota decision, however, claimed by granting reservation to the Maratha community, the government has given them permanent crutches which they will never be able to shed. The petitioners argued it was violative of the Supreme Court orders which say reservation in no state shall exceed 50%. They said the decision was an "election gimmick and was politically motivated".
The government has destroyed the concept of equality by setting up a special category — Socially and Educationally Backward Class — for the Maratha community, the petitioners argued.
They also claimed that as per the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission report, Marathas and Kunbis are one and the same caste and hence, should be included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category.
In June 2017, the SEBC was asked to study the social, financial and educational status of the Maratha community. The panel submitted its report to the government in October 2018, noting that the Maratha community was backward.
The government, while defending its decision, said it was meant to alleviate the Maratha community, which was "socially and economically" backward. It also denied allegations that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis took the decision to appease Maratha voters.
Government counsels Mukul Rohatgi and VA Thorat earlier argued that the creation of SEBC and inclusion of Maratha community in it and the provision of 16% quota cannot be said to be "excessive or disproportionate".
"The commission has taken into consideration each and every aspect of the matter and collected requisite and reliable data concerning the social, educational and economical backwardness of the Maratha community," the state said in its affidavit filed in January this year.
"...the commission has then come to the conclusion that the Maratha community is socially, educationally and economically backward," the affidavit said.
The affidavit further claimed that the government was the custodian and regulator of social justice and enacted the Act after recognising the plight of the Maratha community, and that the ceiling of 50% reservation cannot be made applicable to all states.
(With inputs from PTI)