Vanniyar Reservation Day #2: Tamil Nadu Argues Subclassification of Vanniyars is ValidTamil Nadu’s Vanniyar Reservation
The Court continued to hear the challenge to Tamil Nadu’s 10.5% reservation for the Vanniyar community within the 20% reservation provided for Most Backward Classes (MBCs). In yesterday’s hearing, Senior Advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singvi, arguing for the State of Tamil Nadu, submitted that the matter be referred to a five-judge Bench, as it required the interpretation of The Constitution (One Hundred and Fifth Amendment) Act, 2021 (105th Amendment).
In today’s hearing, Justices Rao and Gavai stated that the matter may not be referred to a larger Bench. Rao J stated that at most, the Madras High Court Order quashing the reservation would be reversed, which did not require a larger Bench. Arguments on the merits of the case began. Tamil Nadu argued that the Madras High Court erroneously struck down the 2021 Act granting reservations to Vanniyars.
In a 2021 Act, the Tamil Nadu government provided 10.5% internal reservations in public employment and education to Vanniyars within the 20% seats reserved for Most Backward Classes (MBCs).
The 2021 Act was challenged by persons belonging to other MBCs before the Madras High Court. They claimed that the TN government did not have the power to pass the Act as it was enacted prior to the 105th Constitutional Amendment.
The MBCs further urged that this reservation within the MBC quota discriminated against them as there was no empirical data to support the Vanniyars’ claim to backwardness. The High Court declared the Act unconstitutional, accepting both arguments. An appeal was filed in the Supreme Court.
Incorrect Application of Supreme Court Decision in E.V Chinnaya
The Madras HC relied on E.V Chinnaya v State of Andhra Pradesh (2005) to state that categories for reservation cannot be subdivided. The reservation for Vanniyars within MBCs was impermissible. Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi argued that firstly, Chinnaya pertained to Reservations for SC/STs and the present case pertained to Most Backward Classes, and hence, Chinnaya would not apply.
Mr. Dwivedi referred to Indra Sawhney and Davinder Singh, where the Court allowed subclassification of Backward Classes. In the previous hearing, Mr. Singhvi pointed out that as per Indra Sawhney, disallowing subclassification of backward classes, would violate the principles of equality, as it would treat ‘unequals’ equally.
The 2021 Act Amends the 1994 Act; Does not Require Assent of the President
The 1994 Act which grants reservations to MBCs and SC/STs, falls within the 9th Schedule. Thus, it falls under Article 31B, which protects listed laws from being challenged in court. Such an Act must receive assent from the President. Under this provision, a competent legislative authority may amend or repeal the protected Act. A new legislation that contradicts the protected Act requires fresh assent of the president.
Dr. Singhvi argued that Section 7 of the 1994 Act permits the government to classify or subclassify backward classes. Through this, the 1994 Act facilitated requirements that may arise in the future. The 2021 Act falls within this power, as it merely subclassifies Vanniyars within an already existing reservation for MBCs.
The Madras HC had held that the 2021 Act is not an amendment, but a special Act. It requires assent of the President, without which it is rendered invalid. Dr. Singhvi argued that the 2021 Act does not change the substance of the 1994 Act. Although the 2021 Act does not explicitly state that it amends the 1994 Act, its substance makes its intention apparent. Senior Advocate C.S Vaidyanathan added that the 2021 Act falls well within the ambit of Section 7.
The Subclassification of Vanniyars was Backed by Data
Section 7 states that State Governments may make classifications and subclassifications based on reports of the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission. Senior Advocate M Narayan Rao appearing for Pattali Makkal Katchi stated that the Janardhana Committee Report, and the Ambashankar Commission had already provided data on MBCs and Denotified Committees. The Madras HC failed to factor in these reports.
Subclassification of Vanniyars as a Class of Persons
Indra Sawhney held that reservations can be provided only on the basis of class and not caste. The Madras HC held that the reservation for Vanniyars is based on caste and was hence unconstitutional. Dr. Singvi argued that the Vanniyar community were so large in numbers, that they formed a homogenous class of persons. Mr. Vaidyanathan informed the Court that the Vanniyars made up 13% of the population of Tamil Nadu.
The Court will continue to hear the matter on February 22nd.