Day 1 Arguments: 27 July 2020
In 2018, the State of Maharashtra passed the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 ('SEBC Act') to extend reservations to the Maratha community. Specifically, the State Legislative Assembly granted Marathas 16% reservations in education and public employment.
Various litigants challenged the SEBC Act before the Bombay High Court. After 40 days of oral arguments, the High Court delivered its judgment in 2018. It upheld the Act but reduced the percentage of seats reserved for Marathas to 12% in education and 13% in public employment, as per the recommendations of the Gaikwad Committee.
Now, the case has moved to the Supreme Court. A three-judge Bench led by Justice Nageswara Rao is hearing Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) challenging the Bombay High Court's judgment. One of the key legal issues is whether the State has the power to exceed the 50% reservation ceiling set by the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney. With the introduction of the SEBC Act, over 70% of seats in Maharashtra are reserved.
Maharashtra Urges the Court to Postpone
Sr. Adv. Mukul Rohatgi submitted that the State of Maharashtra as per the Government Resolution dated 4 May 2020 was not going to proceed with regular appointments to government departments except in the Departments of Public Health and Medical Education and Research. He further expressed difficulty in proceeding with the hearings since the State Government was unable to effectively guide the matter. Advocates for other respondents too were on board with postponing the hearings. In fact, they wanted the hearings to be conducted once physical hearings resumed.
Petitioners Press for Immediate Hearing
Sr. Adv. Arvind Datar opposed the postponement of the hearings. He relied on State of Maharashtra’s statement which indicated its intention to fill up 72,000 posts. Additionally, the Public Service Commission results were declared and appointments may be underway.
Sr. Adv. Shyam Divan pointed out that the admission to postgraduate medical courses is due to close on 31 July. He urged the Court to continue the hearing. Sr. Adv. Siddharth Bhatnagar and Amit Anand Tiwari too were concerned about the admission process in medical colleges being impacted with the ongoing case. Mr Tiwari further argued for moving the late date of admissions in postgraduate medical courses.
After this brief hearing, the Court adjourned the matter to 1 September 2020. In the interim, the State of Maharashtra undertook to not make regular appointments.
Additionally, a few applications sought to refer Indra Sawhney v. Union of India to an 11 judge bench. This precedent caps reservations at 50% and is crucial to adjudicate the claims in this case. The Court has decided to hear these applications on 25 August 2020.
Justice Nageshwar Rao has passed a detailed order.
(This post relies on reporting by Advocate Ila Sheel.)