Ashutosh Kumbhskoni, Maratha reservation protest
Ashutosh Kumbhskoni, Maratha reservation protest
Litigation News

Devendra Fadnavis government had asked me not to appear in Maratha reservation case, Maharashtra AG Ashutosh Kumbhakoni says

Sources close to the meeting that was held in Sholapur to let former AG Thorat appear in the case confirmed that such a decision was taken as Thorat was a Maratha by caste and AG Kumbhakoni was not.

Debayan Roy

After a former standing counsel alleged that Maharashtra Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni was responsible for the Supreme Court verdict against Maratha reservation, the AG has cleared the air, saying that it was the erstwhile BJP government that did not want him to argue the case.

On September 9, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat held that prima facie, Maharashtra has not shown any extraordinary situation for providing reservation to the Maratha community in excess of 50 per cent. The Court held that the quota will not be applicable to jobs and admissions in educational institutions in the interim.

The Court had also referred a batch of petitions challenging the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, which provides for reservation in employment and education to the Maratha community, to a larger bench.

Soon after the verdict, the state’s former standing counsel Nishant Katneshwarkar claimed that AG Kumbhakoni had not argued for the state even once in either the Bombay High Court or the Supreme Court.

"When a team would go from Delhi (to Bombay High Court), AG Kumbhakoni did not come to the court even once. When the Supreme Court was hearing the case also, he did not appear and now when the case was being heard by the court virtually, even then he did not appear before the court. As the AG, it was his duty to defend the Act but he did not appear in the case."

Nishant Katneshwarkar

However, speaking to Bar & Bench, AG Kumbhakoni stated that he only respected the decision of the then Devendra Fadnavis-led government to stay out of the case.

"The hearing in the Bombay HC started in February 2019. Before the hearing, in January 2019, the Maratha group of people had a meeting in Sholapur where a decision was taken that former Advocate General VA Thorat should appear in the case. Post the meeting, the then government asked me to let Mr Thorat defend the state legislation. Hence, with due respect to the request, I did not appear in the case."

Maharashtra AG Ashutosh Kumbhakoni

Sources close to the meeting that was held in Sholapur to let Thorat appear in the case confirmed to Bar & Bench that such a decision was indeed taken, as Thorat was a Maratha by caste and AG Kumbhakoni was not.

While blaming the AG for the debacle in the Apex Court, Katneshwarkar stated that the verdict was "shocking" for the people of Maharashtra.

Some of the sources close to the AG's office speculate that one of reasons why Katneshwarkar has blamed Kumbhakoni for the verdict is more because he is no longer standing counsel.

"When the Congress-Shiv Sena government came to power, Kumbhakoni resigned from the post of Advocate General. However, the new government insisted that he continue as the AG. Similarly, even standing counsel Nishant Katneshwarkar resigned. However, the present government did not insist on his continuation."

Source told Bar & Bench

While stating that he was not to be blamed for the Supreme Court verdict, AG Kumbhakoni also claimed that after the Bombay High Court verdict upholding the SEBC Act, then CM Devendra Fadnavis had thanked legal experts, including the AG and his office, for their efforts. Fadnavis had also informed the Assembly that the High Court had not only upheld the quota, but also refused to stay the operation of its decision, paving the way for the law's immediate implementation in Maharashtra.

Kumbhakoni was first appointed AG in 2017 by the then BJP-Shiv Sena regime. He was retained as the Advocate General after the formation of the new government, which is an alliance of Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP.

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