The Supreme Court on Wednesday deferred the hearing of a case challenging reservation laws which allow 69% quota in State government jobs and educational institutions in Tamil Nadu.
A Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and R. Subhash Reddy decided to wait till a Constitution Bench pronounces its judgment in the Maratha quota case. The court declined to refer the Tamil Nadu quota case to the Constitution Bench, to be heard along with the Maratha quota case.
“We are of the view that these petitions [on the Tamil Nadu laws] need not be heard along with civil appeal no. 3123 of 2020 [Maratha quota case], and be listed after the judgment in civil appeal no. 3123 of 2020,” the court ordered.
A five-judge Constitution Bench, also led by Justice Bhushan, is scheduled to examine the validity of the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018 from March 8. By including the Maratha community for quota benefits, the Maharashtra law has, similar to the Tamil Nadu, crossed the 50% limit, touching 65%.
The Constitution Bench has fixed a deadline of March 18 to complete the hearing in the Maratha quota case.
The deferment takes the spotlight away from the reservation law even as the Assembly election draws nearer in Tamil Nadu.
During the hearing on Wednesday, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for the Tamil Nadu government, submitted that Assembly elections were due shortly, and the case should be taken up after the polls.
Mr. Rohatgi and senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, along with advocate Yogesh Khanna, appearing for Tamil Nadu, said the increase in the reservation percentage in the State was based on “quantifiable data”.
“We have quantifiable data. We had commissions working on this since the 1980s…It’s not like we started in 2020,” Mr. Naphade said.
The State’s lawyers argued that the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of seats in Educational Institutions and of appointments or posts in the Services under the State) Act of 1993 was protected under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution from judicial review.
Section 4 of the Act provides 30% reservation to the Backward Classes, 20% for the Most Backward Classes and de-notified communities, 18% for the Scheduled Castes and 1% for the Scheduled Tribes. Thus, a total of 69% reservation is provided.
Both Mr. Rohatgi and Mr. Naphade vehemently objected to the idea of linking the Tamil Nadu case with the Maratha quota issue pending before the Constitution Bench. They said the cases should be heard separately.
The Tamil Nadu quota law of 1993 was challenged by a student, C.V. Gayathri, through her father, S. Vaitheeswaran.
Ms. Gayathri, through her lawyers, senior advocate Maninder Singh and Meenakshi Arora, submitted that the “Tamil Nadu Reservation Act, 1993 provides 69% reservation in admissions and in public services, which is arbitrary, unreasonable and excessive. This excessive reservation seriously affects general category students and candidates to the public services”.
Ms. Gayathri said the Act was contrary to the principle laid down by a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Indira Sawhney, which had concluded that reservation of “50% shall be the rule; only in certain exceptional and extraordinary situations for bringing far-flung and remote areas’ populations into the mainstream, the said 50% rule can be relaxed”.
Ms. Gayathri also argued that the Tamil Nadu law violated the 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 2018.
The petitioner’s lawyers had urged the court to refer the Tamil Nadu case to the Constitution Bench so that it could be heard along with the Maratha quota case. Ms. Gayathri’s lawyers contended that both cases had raised an identical question of law, that is, whether a State legislature could specify a particular community as ‘socially and educationally backward’ for granting reservation benefits in education and jobs.
The Constitutional Amendment Act had introduced Articles 338B and 342A in the Constitution. Article 338B deals with the newly established National Commission for Backward Classes. Article 342A empowers the President to specify the socially and educationally backward communities in a State. It says that it is for Parliament to include a community in the Central List of socially and educationally backward classes for grant of reservation benefits.