Case Description

The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the constitutional validity of Maharashtra’s Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018, which grants reservations to the Maratha community.

Background

On 9 July, 2014 the state of Maharashtra promulgated an ordinance granting 16% reservation in education and public employment to the Maratha community. On 14 November, 2014 the Bombay High Court issued an interim order staying the ordinance’s implementation. A challenge to the interim order was dismissed by the Supreme Court on 18 December, 2014.

 

Thereafter, Maharashtra enacted the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2014. This granted 16% reservation to educationally and socially backward classes, among whom the Maratha community was counted. On 7 April, 2016 the Bombay High Court stayed the implementation of the Act due to its semblance to the ordinance.

 

On 4 January, 2017 the Maharashtra state government issued a notification establishing the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission. The Commission, chaired by Justice Gaikwad, recommended 12% and 13% reservation for Marathas in educational institutions and appointments in public services, respectively. 

 

Upon the Commission’s recommendations, Maharashtra passed the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 on 29 November, 2018. The Act exceeds the recommended quotas, granting 16% reservation for Marathas in Maharashtra’s state educational institutions and appointments to public service. The constitutional validity of the Act was challenged before the Bombay High Court by three lead petitions, along with several other writ petitions.

 

The primary arguments in the three lead petitions contended that:

  1. The Act is unconstitutional as it exceeds the 50% ceiling limit imposed on reservations by Indra Sawhney v. Union of India.
  2. The Act provides reservation on the Justice Gaikwad Commission report, which lacks the reliable, scientific and adequate data to justify either the backwardness of Marathas or the extra-ordinary condition of increasing reservations in Maharashtra from 52% to 68%.
  3. The Act creates a special class of reservation for Marathas outside the OBC class and violates Articles 14, 16 and 19 of the Constitution by bestowing them with special benefits.
  4. The Act encroaches on judicial power by directly overruling the High Court’s 2014 and 2016 orders.  
  5. The Act was passed without complying with procedural requirements mandated by the 102nd Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2018.

 

On the other hand, the Maharashtra state government had contended that extraordinary conditions such as the increase in number of suicides due to indebtedness and deteriorating incomes among Maratha families justify the enactment of the Act. It further contended that the 2014 interim order was no longer effective as the 2018 Act’s provisions had specifically repealed both the 2014 Ordinance and the 2014 Act.

 

On 27 June 2019, the Bombay High Court upheld the constitutional validity of the Act. It reasoned that:

  1. State governments have the power to increase reservation beyond the ceiling limit of 50% in extraordinary circumstances justified by exceptional conditions and quantifiable data. 
  2. The Justice Gaikwad Commission report was based on scientific and quantifiable data which adequately justified both including Marathas as a socially and educationally backward class as well as the extra-ordinary condition of creating reservations beyond the 50% ceiling limit.
  3. The state government did not encroach upon judicial power as it did not directly overrule any court order. It merely removed the basis of the court’s earlier order by repealing the 2014 ordinance and Act.
  4. The Act meets the test of reasonable classification under Article 14 of the Constitution as it provides reservation for the newly identified class of Marathas, who have been historically incorrectly denied affirmative action, without unjustly depriving the existing Other Backward Classes.
  5. The 102nd Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2018 does not curtail the legislative competency of state legislatures to give effect to Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution through a fair and adequately effective Commission.

 

However, the Bombay High Court read down sections 4(1)(a)-(b) of the 2018 Act, which prescribe 16% reservation in education and public employment. The court held that the Act should not  prescribe reservations exceeding the Commission’s recommended 12% and 13% in education and public employment respectively.

 

On 12 July, 2019 the Supreme Court admitted an appeal to the Bombay High Court’s decision and issued notice to the Maharashtra state government. It chose not to stay the stay the Bombay High Court judgment.

Issues

4. Can the 50% ceiling limit on reservation set by the Supreme Court in its Indra Sawhney judgment be exceeded?

3. Does the Act lack legislative competence and encroach upon judicial powers by directly overruling a court order?

2. Does the Act violate Article 14 of the Constitution by creating a separate class of Marathas outside the OBC class?

1. Does the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 violate Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution?

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