Almost three decades after a nine-judge Bench put a 50% ceiling on reservation in government jobs and education, the Supreme Court on 8 March decided to examine if its 1992 verdict in the Mandal case (Sawhney versus Union of India) needed to be examined afresh.
“Whether (the) judgment in case of Indra Sawhney versus Union of India needs to be referred to a larger Bench or require a re-look in the light of subsequent Constitutional Amendments, judgments and changed social dynamics of the society etc.?” read one of the questions that a five-judge Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan framed for its consideration.
While upholding the reservation for OBCs, a nine-judge Constitution Bench had put a 50% ceiling on quota in government jobs and declared reservations in promotions unconstitutional. Fixing 15 March for the beginning of the hearing, it asked the states to file their submissions.
On 8 March, while dealing with the issue of Maratha reservation, it asked all states to put forth their views on a question of “seminal importance” as to whether legislatures were competent to declare a particular caste to be socially and educationally backward for grant of quota.
Fixing 15 March for commencement of hearing, it asked the states to file their brief written submissions on the issue after Attorney General KK Venugopal said states should be heard as they might be affected by the decision on interpretation of the 102nd amendment.
The Bench – which included Justice L Nageswara Rao, Justice S Abdul Nazeer, Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice S Ravindra Bhat — would examine if a state legislature is competent enough to declare a particular caste to be socially and educationally backward for grant of quota.
The Supreme Court had on 9 September stayed the implementation of the legislation and referred to a larger bench the batch of pleas challenging the validity of law, but made it clear that status of those who have availed of the benefits would not be disturbed.
The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, of Maharashtra was enacted to grant reservation to people of the Maratha community in the state in jobs and admissions.
The Bombay High Court, while upholding the law in June 2019, had held that 16% reservation was not justifiable and the quota should not exceed 12% in employment and 13% in admissions.
The high court had said that the 50% cap on total reservations imposed by the Supreme Court could be exceeded in exceptional circumstances.
Now, Supreme Court has decided to examine the 102nd amendment to the Constitution dealing with reservation to a particular community, named in the list prepared by the President. The 102nd Constitution amendment Act, 2018 inserted Article 338B (deals with the structure, duties and powers of National Commission of Backward Class) and 342A (power of the President to notify a particular caste as Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) and the power of Parliament to change the SEBC list.