On Friday, the Supreme Court of India raised a significant question on the controversial issue of reservation policies in the country and sought to know for how long reservations in jobs and education could continue.
Hearing the petitions challenging the validity of the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, which had extended a 16% reservation for the Maratha community, the Supreme Court posed pertinent questions on the reservation systems that prevail in the country currently.
The apex bench also sought to know whether the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution would be affected if they remove the 50% limit on the reservation and whether it would lead to a “resultant inequality”.
“If there is no 50% limit, what is the concept of Article 14 then? What would happen to the resultant inequality, and for how many generations will this continue?” the bench asked Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who urged the Supreme Court to reconsider the 50% cap imposed by the Indira Sawhney judgment.
A five-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Constitutionality of the Maharashtra State Reservation For Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) that provides 16% extra reservations for Maratha community.
Mandal judgement should be revisited, says Mukul Rohtagi
Arguing in favour of the reservation laws, Rohatgi cited various aspects of the Mandal judgement, also known as the Indra Sawhney case, and said the Centre’s decision to grant a 10% quota to people from an economically weaker section also breached the 50 per cent cap.
Rohatgi said there are many reasons to re-look the Mandal judgment, which was premised on the census of 1931 and added that the population has increased many folds and reached 135 crores.
Responding to Mukul Rohtagi’s arguments, the Supreme Court asked, “If there is no 50% or no limit, as you are suggesting, what is the concept of equality then. We will ultimately have to deal with it. What is your reflection on that… What about the resultant inequality. How many generations will you continue?”
The bench also noted that 70 years have passed since independence, and the states have been carrying on so many beneficial schemes, and “can we accept that no development has taken place, that no backward caste has moved forward”.
“Yes, we have moved forward. But it is not that backward classes have gone down from 50 to 20 per cent. We still have starvation deaths in this country… I am not trying to say that Indra Sawhney is completely wrong, throw it in the dustbin. I am raising issues that 30 years have gone by, the law has changed, the population has grown, backward persons may also have increased,” Rohatgi said.
The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court has decided to hear all states in the matter after petitioners sought reconsideration on the Indra Sawhney judgement. This case puts s 50% cap on the reservation permissible for backward classes.
Earlier, the Bombay High Court, while upholding the Maratha quota, had ruled that 16% reservation is not justifiable and observed that reservation should not exceed 12% in employment and 13% in education as recommended by the State Backward Commission.