The Supreme Court on Wednesday deferred hearing a challenge to the Tamil Nadu reservation law, which allows 69% quota in State government jobs and educational institutions.
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 five-judge Constitution Bench, also led by Justice Bhushan, is scheduled from March 8 to examine the validity of the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018. By including the Maratha community for quota benefits, the Maharashtra law, like Tamil Nadu’s legislation, has crossed the 50% ceiling limit and touched 65%.
The Constitution Bench has fixed a deadline of March 18 to complete the hearing in the Maratha case.
The deferment draws the spotlight away from the reservation law ahead of the Assembly election in Tamil Nadu.
During the hearing on Wednesday, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for the Tamil Nadu government, submitted that Assembly election was due shortly and the case should be taken up after the poll.
Mr. Rohatgi and senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, along with advocate Yogesh Kanna, for Tamil Nadu, said the increase in reservation percentage in the State was based on “quantifiable data”.
“We have quantifiable data. We had commissions working on this since 1980s… It’s not like we started in 2020,” Mr. Naphade said.
The State’s lawyers argued that the Tamil 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 Most Backward Classes and de-notified communities, 18% for Scheduled Castes and 1% for 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 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 the Indira Sawhney case, 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 population into mainstream, the said 50% rule can be relaxed.
She 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 Constitution 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 for socially and backward classes for grant of reservation benefits.