Vanniyar Reservation Day #3: Petitioner Argues TN Not Competent to Identify Backward ClassesTamil Nadu’s Vanniyar Reservation
In today’s hearing, the Court heard arguments from Senior Advocates Mr. C.S Vaidyanathan, Mr. P. Wilson and Mr. Radhakrishnan who argued for the State of Tamil Nadu. They focused on the use and legitimacy of the data relied on to provide reservations for Vanniyars within the reservations for Most Backward Classes. The Court then heard arguments on behalf of Mayileruperumal, the respondent, by Senior Advocate Mr. Gopal Shankarnarayanan.
The Bench comprising Justices Rao and Gavai appeared eager to close the matter swiftly. They encouraged counsels to refrain from repeating points made in the previous hearings, and only make new submissions.
Mr. Vaidyanathan argued that the Madras High Court did not sufficiently explain why the data collected through the Janarthanam Committee Report, and the Ambashankar Committee was insufficient. Lamenting that the ‘last player’ always struggles with making fresh points, Mr. P Wilson reiterated that sufficient data was available, based on which the 2021 Act was passed.
The Bench then began hearing arguments on behalf of the respondent, Mayileruperumal. Mr. Sankaranarayanan made two broad arguments. First, that when the Tamil Nadu Government passed the 2021 Act, it did not have the power to identify SEBCs. Second, proper procedure was not followed to identify Vanniyars as Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC).
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.
Sr. Adv. Mr. Gopal Shankarnarayanan: Tamil Nadu Not Competent to Pass 2021 Act
The Tamil Nadu Government passed the 2021 Act before the 105th Amendment recognising States’ power to identify SEBCs was passed. Further, Mr. Shankarnarayan argued that the 105th Amendment is prospective, meaning that it does not apply to laws passed before it. Hence, powers that the 105th Amendment vested in States to recognise SEBCs does not apply to the 2021 Act.
Mr. Shankarnarayan further argued that the 105th Amendment does not clarify, and ‘relate back’ to the 102nd Amendment. The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution, and laws that are passed subsequently do not clarify the Court’s interpretation. Hence, the 105th Amendment does not clarify that States indeed have the power to identify SEBCs as per the 102nd Amendment. Further, Mr. Shankarnayanan argued that if a legislation is invalid from the start, an Amendment that comes after the legislation cannot cure its invalidity.
Proper Procedure Not Followed to Identify SEBCs
On February 26th 2021, when the 2021 Act was passed, the 102nd Amendment was in force. As per procedure established under the 102nd Amendment, SEBCs could be identified by a notification issued under Article 342A. Further, State Governments were required to consult with the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) on policy matters concerning SEBCs.
Mr. Shankarnarayanan argued that as the 2021 Act was passed under the 102nd Amendment, for Vanniyars to be recognised as SEBCs, these steps would have to be followed. He noted that the Tamil Nadu Government did not consult the NCBC; and Vanniyars were not recognised as SEBCs under Article 342A. The 2021 Act cannot be used ‘as a substitute for procedure laid down in the Constitution’.