Maratha Reservation| Implementation of Maharashtra State Reservation Act stayed; Larger bench to interpret Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ has referred to a larger bench, the substantial question of the interpretation of the provisions inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018. It further stayed the implementation of 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 and said,

“Implementation of the Act for admissions in educational institutions and appointments to public posts during the pendency of these Appeals will cause irreparable loss to the candidates belonging to the open category. It will be difficult to cancel the admissions made in the educational institutions and appointments made to the public posts by implementing the reservations as per the Act.”

Background

The said order of the court came in the matter challenging the constitutional validity of a Maharashtra law, which grants reservation to the Maratha community in education and jobs. The plea had challenged the Bombay High Court order that upheld the constitutional validity of the quota for the Maratha community in education and government jobs in Maharashtra. Bombay High Court had on June 27, 2019, said the 50 per cent cap on total reservations imposed by the Supreme Court could be exceeded in exceptional circumstances.

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 which came into force on 30.11.2018, declared Marathas to be a “Socially and Educationally Backward Class”. Reservations to the extent of 16 per cent of the total seats in educational institutions including private educational institutions and 16 per cent of the total appointments in direct recruitment for public services and posts under the State, were separately made for “socially and educationally backward classes” according to Section 4 of the Act.

Observations by Supreme Court

On reference of appeals to a larger bench

Stating that it did not agree with the argument that the Appeals warrant reference to a larger Bench, the Court said that

“Undoubtedly, this Court in Indra Sawhney held that reservations contemplated in Article 16 (4) should not exceed 50 per cent except in certain extraordinary situations. This Court in Indra Sawhney 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.”

On reference of question of interpretation of the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018

The High Court has considered the issue 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.

The Supreme Court found force in the submissions made on behalf of the Respondents relating to the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018. It said,

“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.”

On passing interim order

Noticing that no doubt true that the Act providing reservations has been upheld by the High Court and the interim relief sought by the Appellants would be contrary to the provisions of the Act, the Court said that

“However, if the Court is convinced that the statute is ex-facie un-constitutional and the factors like balance of convenience, irreparable injury and Public Interest are in favour of passing an interim order, the Court can grant interim relief. There is always a presumption in favour of the constitutional validity of a legislation. Unless the provision is manifestly unjust or glaringly un-constitutional, the courts do show judicial restraint in staying the applicability of the same.”

It said that normally an interim order is not passed to stultify statutory provisions. However, there is no absolute rule to restrain interim orders being passed when an enactment is ex facie un-constitutional or contrary to the law laid down by this Court.

On the applicability of law laid down in Indra Sawhney

Applying the law laid down by the Court in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India,1992 Supp. (3) SCC 217, the Court was of the prima facie opinion that the State of Maharashtra has not shown any extraordinary situation for providing reservations to Marathas in excess of 50 per cent.

“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. The State has failed to make out a special case for providing reservation in excess of 50 per cent. Neither has any caution been exercised by the State in doing so.”

The Court explained that the factors termed as extraordinary and exceptional, justifying reservations in excess of 50 percent are those required for the purpose of providing reservations. The social, educational and economic backwardness of a community, existence of quantifiable data relating to inadequacy of representation of the community in public services and deprivation of the benefits flowing from reservations to the community are not exceptional circumstances for providing reservations in excess of 50 per cent.

It was, hence, prima facie of the opinion that the High Court committed an error in treating the above factors as circumstances which are extraordinary, warranting relaxation of the strict rule of 50 percent. Admittedly, reservations provided to the Maratha community were implemented in educational institutions for one academic year only. It, hence, observed,

“Implementation of the Act for admissions in educational institutions and appointments to public posts during the pendency of these Appeals will cause irreparable loss to the candidates belonging to the open category. It will be difficult to cancel the admissions made in the educational institutions and appointments made to the public posts by implementing the reservations as per the Act.”

Directions

(A) 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.

(B) Admissions to educational institutions for the academic year 2020-21 shall be made without reference to the reservations provided in the Act. We make it clear that the Admissions made to Post-Graduate Medical Courses shall not be altered.

(C) Appointments to public services and posts under the Government shall be made without implementing the reservation as provided in the Act.

[Dr. Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. The Chief Minister, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 727, decided on 09.09.2020]

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