The Supreme Court is hearing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) challenging Maharashtra's Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 ('SEBC Act'). The Act grants reservations to the Maratha community in education and public employment in the State.
Last year, the Bombay High Court upheld the Act. The High Court held that the State had legitimately extended reservations on the basis of scientific and quantifiable data (see Gaikwad Commission report). It dismissed the argument that the State didn't have the power to increase reservations beyond the 50% ceiling set by the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney. It concluded that the Act meets the test of reasonable classification and does not violate Article 14, the fundamental right to equality.
However, the Bombay High Court did reduce the percentage of seats that the SEBC Act reserved for Marathas. Specifically, the High Court directed the State to not exceed the Gaikwad Commission's recommendations. The Commission had only recommended 12% and 13% reservations in education and public employment, but the SEBC Act had granted 16% in both.
Following the Bombay High Court's judgment, ten litigants filed SLPs challenging the judgment in the Supreme Court. A Bench comprising then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose began hearing the case in July 2019. Till now, the Supreme Court has declined to issue any interim relief, such as staying the operation of the SEBC Act.
Final arguments may commence shortly
Today, 7 July, a Bench comprising Justices Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ravindra Bhat took up the case (the CJI had assigned the case to Justice Rao's Bench on 4 February 2020). Justice Rao expressed the desire to begin hearing the case on a day-to-day basis. He directed all counsels to submit written arguments and to specify how much time they would take to present oral arguments. Indicating that the case should be heard urgently, he said that the case would be listed on a Monday and then heard for the rest of the week.
Senior Advocate Shyam Divan pleaded with the Bench to conduct physical hearings, saying that video-conferencing would hinder the ability of counsels to effectively present arguments.
Justice Rao indicated that it wouldn't be prudent to risk a physical hearing, given the present epidemic. However, he also didn't state that the Bench would immediately proceed with virtual hearings.
The Bench listed the case for 15 July for interim orders. It permitted counsels to file written submissions on interim relief.