05 May 2121

The Supreme Court of India strikes down the Maratha Reservation Law for exceeding the 50 per cent threshold

Case : Dr Jaishri Laxman Rao Patil v. The Chief Minister & Ors. (With 14 siminlar cases) Civil Appeal No. 3123 of 2020

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Hemant Gupta

Decided on : 05 May 2121

Relevant Statutes

Articles 15(4), 16(4), 32, 342A, 366(26c), 240, 340, 338B, 338(10), 14, 16, 21, 19, 368(2), 243D, 243T, 341, 336(26), 335, 46, 15, 12, 342A(2), 15(1), 39(b)(c), 46, 16(1), 16(4)(A), 16(4)(B), 341, 342, 15(1), 15(6), 16(6), 15(5), 15(4)(5), 342A(1), 342(2), 30, 16(1), 10, 10(1), 10(3), 330, 332, 141, 31C, 38, 38(2), 39(b), 39(c), 29(2), 29, 30(1), 29(2), 19(1)(g), 26, 16(4B), 243B, 16(4A), 342A, 368, 31A, 32, 9, 26C, 338B(5), 338B(7), 338B(9), 124, 207, 233, 234, 320, 222, 216, 217, 217(1), 338B(4), 239AA, 300A, 300B, 368(2), 21A, 9(3), 342, 53, 73, 79, 309, 340, 166, 163, 154, 341, 342A(31), 342A(4), 19(1)(d), 19(1), 367(1), 164(1A), 226, 291, 362, 142, 367, 372, 372A, 19(1)(g), 336(24), 336(25), 366(29)A, 269, 289(1), 286, 285(1), 286(3), 239, 366(1)(1), 366(1), 258, 243, 366(12), 372, 367, 128, 164(1-A), 78, 194, 338(1), 77, 246, 346, 164(5), 341, 262, 56, 194, 194(3), 178, 179, 182, 183, 187, 366(30), 289, 243X, 1(3) of the Constitution of India.

Section 3 (8) (b), 131 of the General Clauses Act, 1897

Section 4(1)(a), 4(1)(b),4(1), 3(4), 2(c), 2(j), 3(2), 3(4), 4,5,9(2),10 and 12 of the Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and appointments in the public services and posts under the State) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018

The Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and appointments in the public services and posts under the State) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC)(amended) Act, 2019

Section 57(4), 74 of the Evidence Act, 1872

Section 237 of Companies Act, 1956

Section 2(1)(j), 3, 2(d), 2(e), 4 of the Educationally and Socially Backward Category (ESBC) Act, 2014

52nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1985

17th Constitution Amendment Act, 1964

section 43(b) Madras District Municipalities Act, 1920

Section 2(C), 9, 11 National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993

Section 309, Bennion on Statutory Interpretation, 5th Edition

Section 2(C), 2(E) and Section 9(1) of the Maharashtra Act No.34 of 2006 

7th Constitution Amendment Act, 1956

Section 123(3), 123(3-A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951

6th Constitution Amendment Act, 1956

8th Constitution Amendment Act, 1959

Income-tax Act, 1961

Section 15, 14 of the Central Sales Tax Act, 1956.

46th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1982

Constitution 123rd Amendment Bill, 2017

The Maharashtra SCBC Act, 2006 

Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes, 1995 

A.P. Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1995

U.P. State Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1996

Kerala State Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993 

Madhya Pradesh Rajya PichdaVargAdhiniyam, 1995

Bihar State Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993

Assam Backward Classes Commission Act, 1993 

Orissa State Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993

West Bengal Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993

J&K State Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1997

Chhattisgarh Rajya Pichhda Varga Adhiniyam, 1993  

Telangana Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993

65th Constitution Amendment Act, 1990

89th Constitution Amendment Act, 2003

102nd Constitution Amendment Act, 2018

93rd Constitution Amendment Act, 2005

Ontario Human Rights Code 1990 

Canadian Human Rights Act 1985

Section 15(3) of the Employment Equity Act, 1998

Section 103(f)(2), Public Works Employment Act of 1977

Manual Scavengers Act, 2013

Section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act, 2009

Maharashtra Act No. LXII of 2018

Central Provinces and Berar Sales of Motor Spirit and Lubricants Taxation Act, 1938

81st Constitution Amendment Act, 2000

Government of India Act, 1935

Backward Classes Act, 1993

Backward Classes (Repeal) Act, 2018

National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993

69th Constitution Amendment Act, 1991

All India Services Act, 1951

73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992

Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006

Sections 2(b), 2(f), 2(g), 2(k) and 2(m), 4, 4(2), 2(j), 2(e), 9 of the Maharashtra State Public Services (Reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, De-notified Tribes (Vimukta Jatis), Nomadic Tribes, Special Backward Category and Other Backward Classes) Act, 2001

Section 2, 4 of the Maharashtra Private Professional Educational Institutions (Reservation of seats for admission for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, De-notified Tribes (Vimukta Jatis), Nomadic Tribes and Other Backward Classes) Act, 2006

Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and appointments or posts in the public services under the State) for Educationally and Socially Backward Category (ESBC) Act, 2014

Brief Facts & Procedural History

1. The "Maratha" is a Hindu group that is mostly found in Maharashtra. Following the implementation of the Indian Constitution, the President of India appointed a Commission under Article 240 to investigate the conditions of all such socially and educationally backward classes. The first National Commission for Backward Classes did not identify the Maratha as a backward class community in the state of Bombay, and stated, “In Maharashtra, besides the Brahman, it is the Maratha who claimed to be the ruling community in the villages, and the Prabhu, that dominated all other communities”.

 2. The second National Backward Classes Commission classified the Maratha as an advanced Hindu caste.

3. The National Commission for Backward Classes held a public hearing in Mumbai, and after hearing from government officials, the Chairman of the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission submitted a detailed report concluding that the Maratha community is not a socially or educationally backward class, but rather a socially advanced and prestigious group.

4. The Maharashtra State OBC Commission, chaired by Justice R.M. Bapat, issued a report concluding that because Maratha is an advanced caste, it could not be placed on the OBC list. The findings were rejected after a review.

5. Despite the presence of a formal State OBC Commission, the Maharashtra government established a special committee led by Shri Narayan Rane, a sitting Minister, to present a report on the Maratha caste. The Rane Committee presented their findings to the State, recommending that special reservations be made for the Maratha people under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Indian Constitution.

6. The state of Maharashtra passed an act, allowing the Maratha minority a 16 per cent quota in education and public jobs. The Bombay High Court granted an interim order, halting the ordinance's implementation. The Honourable Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the interim decree.

7. Maharashtra adopted the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2014 as a result. This gave educationally and socially disadvantaged people, including the Maratha minority, a 16 per cent quota. The Bombay High Court delayed the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2014 execution, citing its resemblance to the ordinance.

8. The Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission was established by a notice issued by the Maharashtra state government. The Commission, led by Justice Gaikwad, proposed that Marathas be given a 12 per cent and a 13 per cent quota in educational institutions and public service appointments, respectively.

9. Maharashtra enacted the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018, based on the Commission's recommendations. The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 goes above and above the suggested quotas, providing Maratha’s 16 per cent reservation in Maharashtra's state educational institutions and public sector appointments. Three lead petitions, as well as numerous additional writ petitions, were filed in the Bombay High Court challenging the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 constitutional legitimacy.

10. The following were the main points made in the three lead petitions:

a. The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 is illegal because it goes above the Indra Sawhney v. Union of India [1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217] reservation ceiling of 50%.

b. The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 bases reservations on the Justice Gaikwad Commission report, which lacks credible, scientific, and sufficient evidence to support either the backwardness of Marathas or the unusual circumstance of raising Maharashtra reservations from 52 per cent to 68 per cent.

c. The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 creates a separate class of reservation for Marathas who do not belong to the OBC category, infringing on Articles 14, 16, and 19 of the Constitution by bestowing special privileges on them.

d. By explicitly overruling the High Court's 2014 and 2016 orders, the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 infringes on judicial power.

e. The 102nd Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2018 specified procedural procedures, yet the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 was approved without them.

11. The Maharashtra State Government, on the other hand, argued that unusual circumstances, such as a spike in the number of suicides among Maratha families owing to debts and decreasing earnings, justified the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 passage. It further claimed that the 2014 interim order was no longer in effect since the terms of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 expressly abolished both the 2014 Ordinance and the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2014.

12. The Bombay High Court affirmed the Act's constitutional legality. It concluded that:

a. In exceptional cases supported by measurable evidence, state governments have the authority to enhance reserve beyond the 50 per cent upper restriction.

b. The Justice Gaikwad Commission report was based on scientific and measurable facts that properly supported both the inclusion of Marathas as a socially and educationally backward class and the extraordinary condition of setting reservations over the 50% ceiling limit.

c. The State Government did not explicitly overrule any court order; thus, it did not intrude on judicial power. By removing the 2014 Ordinance and Act, simply eliminated the foundation for the Court's previous order.

d. The Act satisfies Article 14 of the Constitution's reasonable classification test by reserving seats for the newly recognised Marathas, who have been previously denied affirmative action, without unfairly depriving the existing Other Backward Classes.

e. The 102nd Constitution (Amendment) Act of 2018 does not limit state legislatures' ability to implement Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution through a fair and sufficiently effective Commission.

13. The Bombay High Court, on the other hand, struck down sections 4(1)(a) -(b) of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018, which mandate 16 per cent reservation in education and government jobs. The court ruled those reservations in education and public employment should not exceed the Commission's proposed 12 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.

14. The Honourable Supreme Court accepted an appeal from the Bombay High Court's ruling and sent the notice to the Maharashtra state government. It decided not to appeal the Bombay High Court's decision. The first issue that arose was whether or not this case should be sent to a bigger bench since it contained significant legal issues involving the interpretation of the Constitution.

15. After hearing both parties, the Court decided to refer the matter to a bigger bench in brief, non-reportable order. It also put an end to the SEBC Act's application to educational institutions, except for Post-Graduate Medical Courses.

The Issues of the Case

Whether the verdict in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India [1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217] should be referred to a bigger bench or re-examined by a larger bench in light of later Constitutional Amendments, judgements, and changes in social dynamics, etc.?

Whether the Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and appointments in the State's public services and posts) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, as amended in 2019, granting 12 per cent and 13 per cent social reservation to the Maratha community in addition to 50 per cent social reservation, is covered by exceptional circumstances as contemplated by Constitution Bench in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217?

Whether the State Government has made out a case of existence of extraordinary situation and exceptional circumstances in the State to fall within the exception carved out in the judgement of Indra Sawhney v. Union of India [1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217] based on the Maharashtra State Backward Commission Report chaired by M.C. Gaikwad?

Whether the Constitution's One Hundred and Second Amendment deprives the State Legislature of its enabling right to pass legislation identifying socially and economically disadvantaged groups and imposing benefits on them?

Whether Article 342(A) read with Article 366(26c) of the Indian Constitution restricted in any manner the States' authority to legislate in respect to "any backward class" under Articles 15(4) and 16(4)?

Whether Article 342A of the Constitution deprives states of their ability to regulate or categorise “any backward class of citizens” and thus has an impact on India's federal policy and structure?

The Observations of the Court

1. Honourable Supreme Court of India observes that the issue had already been decided by the court in the case of Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC, which established the rule that the reservation under Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India should not exceed 50% except in exceptional circumstances. In the case of M. Nagaraj vs. Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 212, the same decision was upheld. As a result, there is no serious question of law involving the scope of reservation in these appeals in terms of constitutional interpretation. However, because there is a substantial question of law involving the interpretation of Articles 338-B and 342-A of the Constitution of India, which were inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018, the submission relating to their interpretation requires consideration by a larger bench for the disposal of the appeal. The court justified its decision by stating that there is no authoritative pronouncement on the interpretation of the provisions inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018, which directly address the state government's authority to declare a caste as socially and educationally backwards.

2. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observed that the court followed the judgement in Health for Millions v. Union of India, which said that in cases involving a challenge to the constitutionality of the law, the court should not give an interim order. The court did note, however, that there is no absolute rule for restraining the interim order in cases where the enactment is ex facie unconstitutional or contrary to the law laid down by the Apex Court, or where factors such as the balance of convenience, irreparable injury, or public interest are involved. Similarly, the court stated that the referring Bench is not prohibited from issuing interim orders while referring the case to a bigger Bench. As a result, the court dismissed the application and concluded that it is competent to provide interim instructions, particularly given the applicant's contention that the Maharashtra State Socially and Educationally Backward Class Reservation Act, 2018 (amended in 2019) violates the law established by Honourable Supreme Court of India in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC.

3. The Honourable Supreme Court observed that the High Court of Bombay made a mistake in maintaining the decision that the State of Maharashtra was justified in giving reservations above 50% due to unusual circumstances. People who live in far-flung and isolated places, who are not part of the mainstream of national life, and who need to be treated differently, are examples of such unusual situations. Furthermore, it is obvious that utmost caution should be used and that a specific case should be created for such leniency. The court decided that the state of Maharashtra had failed to demonstrate any unusual circumstances. Furthermore, the Maratha group, which makes up 30% of Maharashtra's population, cannot be equated to underprivileged elements of society living in far-flung and isolated places. Furthermore, the state of Maharashtra has failed to establish a special situation and has shown no reluctance to provide reservations above 50%. The court decided that a community's social, educational, and economic disadvantages, as well as a lack of adequate representation, do not qualify as exceptional conditions for giving reservations above 50%. Finally, the court ruled that implementing the Maharashtra State Socially and Educationally Backward Class Reservation Act, 2018(amended in 2019) for admissions to educational institutions and appointments to public posts while these appeals are being heard by a larger bench will result in irreparable harm to candidates from the general category, and that it will be difficult to reverse such admissions and appointments made under the Maharashtra State Socially and Educationally Backward Class Reservation Act, 2018(amended in 2019).

4. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observes that there was no need to review the landmark decision in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC. Changing the 50% restriction would result in a society that is based on caste dominance rather than equality. Democracy is an important aspect of our Constitution and a fundamental part of our system. If the reservation exceeds the acceptable 50 per cent level, it will be a slippery slope, since political pressure will make it difficult to lower it. As a result, the response to the issue is that the 50% figure was arrived at based on the principle of reasonability and accomplishes equality as established in Article 14, of which Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India are aspects.

5. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observes that the Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC ruling has been followed for more than a quarter-century without any doubt being raised in any of the judgements concerning the 50 per cent rule and that the 50 per cent rule has been observed consistently. The bench further noted that the Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC ruling has been followed for more than a quarter-century without any doubt being raised in any of the judgements concerning the 50 per cent rule and that the 50 per cent rule has been observed consistently. 

6. Honourable Supreme Court of India also observes that the Commission based its decision on the Constitution Bench decision in M. Nagaraj vs. Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 212 and concluded that the quantifiable data ceiling of 50% may be exceeded. As a result, it should be mentioned that based on a population of 30%, the Commission has calculated that the total percentage of the State population entitled to the constitutional benefits and advantages listed in Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution of India would be around 85%, posing a compelling extra-ordinary situation that necessitates an extra-ordinary solution within the constitutional framework.

7. Referring to the case M. Nagaraj vs. Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 212, the Constitution Bench noted that the majority decision in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC concluded that the 50 per cent rule was binding, not only a prudential guideline. The Constitutional Court had ruled, in terms of promotions, the state is not obligated to make reservations for SCs/STs. However, if the State wishes to use its discretion and establish such a provision, it must collect quantitative evidence demonstrating the class's backwardness and inadequacy of representation in public employment, in addition to complying with Article 335 of the Constitution of India. Even if the State has strong reasons, as indicated above, the State must ensure that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness, such as breaching the 50 per cent ceiling limit, obliterating the creamy layer, or extending the reservation forever. As a result, the Constitution Bench made it plain that even reserve for promotion has a 50 per cent restriction that cannot be exceeded. As a result, the Commission entirely misunderstood the ratio of the ruling. The Marathas represent the majority of the forward-thinking elite and are well-integrated into national life.

8. Honourable Supreme Court also observes that there were no exceptional circumstances that justified giving special quota to the Maratha Community over the 50% maximum limit on reserve. The Maharashtra State Socially and Educationally Backward Class Reservation Act, 2018 violates Article 16 of the Constitution of India equality principle. The surpassing of the ceiling limit without extraordinary circumstances contradicts Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India, rendering the legislation ultra vires. The bill's statement and goal suggest that the State has formed a judgement based on the Commissions' findings and has accepted the Commission's reasoning for concluding that unusual circumstances justify exceeding the maximum limit.

The Decision Held by the Court

Honourable Supreme Court of India held that

1. Re Point No 1: Indra Sawhney v. Union of India [1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217] does not require referral to a bigger bench, nor does it require reconsideration in light of later constitutional changes, decisions, and altered socioeconomic dynamics of the society.

2. Re Point No 2: The Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and appointments in the State's public services and posts) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018, as amended in 2019, which grants 12 per cent and 13 per cent Maratha community reservation in addition to 50 per cent social reservation, is not covered by exceptional circumstantial evidence as contemplated by Constitution Bench in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India [1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217].Re Point No 3: Based on the Maharashtra State Backward Commission Report, chaired by M.C. Gaikwad, the State Government has not established that there is an uncommon condition or exceptional circumstance in the State that qualifies it for the exemption carved out in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India [1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217].

3. Re Point No 4 and 5:

a. The President alone, to the exclusion of all other authorities, is empowered to identify Socially and Educationally Backward Classes and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1) of the Constitution of India, which shall be deemed to include Socially and Educationally Backward Classes concerning each state and union territory for the Constitution by the introduction of Articles 366 (26C) and 342A through the 102nd Constitution of India.

b. States can only submit proposals to the President of the Commission under Article 338B of the Constitution of India for inclusion, exclusion, or modification of castes or communities in the list to be published under Article 342Aof the Constitution of India, using existing processes or even statutory commissions (1).

c. The Central List referred to in Article 342A (2) of the Constitution of India is the one that the President has notified under Article 342A. (1) of the Constitution of India. It will be the single list used for all purposes under the Constitution, regarding each state and union territory. The phrase "Central List" refers exclusively to the list compiled and published under Article 342A (1) of the Constitution of India, and nothing else; it does not imply that states have any authority to publish their list of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes. Under Article 342A (1) of the Constitution of India, the list can only be amended by a law enacted by Parliament after it has been published (2).

d. The President will be directed in identifying Socially and Educationally Backward Classes by the Commission established under Article 338B of the Constitution of India, whose assistance will also be sought by the state in respect to policies that may be developed by it. If the commission develops a report on identity issues, it must be shared with the state government, which is obligated to act on it in compliance with the provision of Article 338B. However, the President (i.e., the Central Government, under Article 342A (1) of the Constitution of India, as a result of Article 367 of the Constitution of India read with Section 3 (8) (b) General Clauses Act) makes the ultimate determination.

e. Except for the designation of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, the states' ability to create reservations in favour of certain groups or castes, the number of reservations, the type of benefits and the sort of reservations, and all other subjects coming within the scope of Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India remain unaffected.

f. The President shall publish the notification containing the list of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes concerning states and union territories, for the Constitution, as soon as the Commission established under Article 338B of the Constitution of India completes its job and makes its recommendations.

g. The current lists in all states and union territories, as well as for the Central Government and central institutions, will continue to operate until the publication of the notice stated in the directive (f). This directive is issued per Article 142 of the Indian Constitution.

4. Re Point No. 6: Article 342A of the Constitution of India, which deprives states of the ability to legislate or categorise “any backward class of citizens,” has no effect on the federal polity and does not contradict the Indian Constitution's essential framework.

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