Challenge to Extended Reservations in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies | Is the 104th Constitutional Amendment Unconstitutional?Challenge to Extended Reservations in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies
On 20 September 2023, a Constitution bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud decided to hear the petitions challenging the 79th constitutional amendment extending SC/ST reservations in Parliament and State Legislatures from 21 November 2023. The bench also renamed the case as “In re Article 334 of the Constitution.”
The bench heard brief submissions from Senior Advocates C. Aryama Sundaram, Gopal Sankaranarayanan, S.M. Chandrasekhar, Attorney General R. Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
On 10 July 2000, Mr. Ashok Kumar Jain filed a petition challenging the validity of the Constitution (79th Amendment) Act, 1999 (79th Amendment), which amended Article 334 of the Constitution of India, 1950. Article 334 grants reservations in the Lok Sabha and State Legislatures to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and the Anglo-Indian community. The provision was initially supposed to operate for a period of 10 years.
On 2 September 2003, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court held that the case involved interpretation of the Constitution and referred it to a 5-Judge Constitution Bench. On September 6th, 2018, 15 years after the matter was referred to a Constitution Bench, the petitioners applied for an early hearing of the case. The Court heard the application on 29 October 2018 and passed an Order stating that the matter would be listed and heard when the 5-Judge Constitution Bench assembled.
In 2019, the 104th Amendment to the Indian Constitution further extended the time limit for terminating SC and ST seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislatures by replacing the words “70 years” with “80 years”. This amendment also removed the reservation for Anglo-Indians.
On 24 August 2022, the Supreme Court listed the matter for hearing, along with 24 other pending 5-Judge Constitution Bench cases. On 1 November 2022, the Bench indicated that it would list the cases for direction on 29 November 2022 to ensure all the pleadings are in order and list the case for hearing immediately thereafter.
Finally, on 22 August 2023, the case was listed for directions before a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice D.Y Chandrachud and Justices A.S. Boppanna, M.M. Sundresh, J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.
Is the right to stand as a candidate in elections part of the basic structure?
Sundaram, appearing for the petitioners, informed the bench that amendments were being introduced every 10 years to extend reservations. He formulated the following seven questions for the Court to consider in the challenge.
- Whether the proposition that reservation of seats for SC/ST in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies will cease after a certain period can be “constitutionally final” (cannot be amended).
- Is the right to stand as a candidate or to vote for a candidate in direct elections in the lower house of Parliament as well as the Legislative Assembly is an integral part of the principle of equality and democracy and as such the basic structure of the constitution, and should be open to everyone without reservation.
- Whether the amendments to Article 334 of the constitution, extending the period of reservation beyond what was prescribed in the original Constitution, without subjecting it to judicial review, are constitutionally valid?
- Whether objective and quantifiable data was present for such extensions to save them from manifest arbitrariness and whether the requirements of Article 14 were satisfied.
- Whether the Constitution 104th Amendment Act and the subsequent laws that facilitate such reservation are constitutionally invalid.
- Given the language of Article 329A [draft Article of 334], whether taking away judicial review of a challenge to the delimitation of constituencies or allotment of seats to them under Articles 327 and 328 is in violation of the basic structure.
- Whether the distribution of the number of seats for the SC/ST without rotation is violative of Article 14.
The Court’s decision shall not affect the legitimacy of Amendments prior to 2019
Mehta and Venkataramani submitted that of all the questions posed by Sundaram, there were only a few key questions and that the rest of the questions were arguments that were subsumed by this question. Agreeing with this view, Sankaranarayanan suggested that the case be renamed “In Re Article 334 of the Constitution.” The bench accepted this view and formulated the key constitutional questions in the case as follows:
- Whether the Constitution (104th Amendment) Act 2019 is unconstitutional?
- Whether the exercise of constituent powers of amendment to extend the period prescribed for the expiration of a period of reservations under Article 334 is constitutionally valid?
The Court clarified that its adjudication of the case would not affect any Amendments prior to 2019. The bench directed the parties to file their common compilations by 17 October 2023 and written submissions by 7 November 2023. The case will be heard on 21 November 2023 after another bench led by the Chief wraps up hearings in Bajaj Allianz General Insurance v Rambha Devi.