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.
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 were:
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It further contended that the 2014 interim order was no longer effective as the 2018 Act’s provisions had specifically repealed both the 2014 Ordinance and the 2014 Act.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:
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. The preliminary issue that came up was regarding the need to refer this case to a larger bench, as it involved substantial questions of law around the interpretation of the Constitution. After hearing both the parties, the Court on 09 September, in its brief, non-reportable order, decided to refer the case to a larger bench. Additionally, it halted the application of the SEBC Act for educational institutions except for Post-Graduate Medical Courses.
1. Does the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 violate Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution?
2. Does the Act violate Article 14 of the Constitution by creating a separate class of Marathas outside the OBC class?
3. Does the Act lack legislative competence and encroach upon judicial powers by directly overruling a court order?
4. Can the 50% ceiling limit on reservation set by the Supreme Court in its Indra Sawhney judgment be exceeded?