[OBC Reservation in AIQ Medical Seats] Madras High Court drops contempt case against Central govt but doubts correctness of EWS quota

On the face of it, the provision of additional reservation above 50% as permitted by the 103rd Constitutional amendment permitting 10% EWS quota appears to fall foul of the Indra Sawhney case, the Court said.
Madras High Court
Madras High Court

The Madras High Court on Wednesday dropped the contempt of court case filed by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party against the Central government on the issue of implementing reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in All India Quota (AIQ) medical college seats.

A Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu ruled that there is no willful or deliberate violation on the part of the Centre in implementing the High Court's 2020 ruling on the issue.

However, the Court expressed its doubts regarding the validity of extending a 10 percent reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in AIQ seats, and directed that the same is not permissible without the Supreme Court's approval.

The 27 percent OBC reservation offered by the Centre in its July 29, 2021 notification may be permissible subject to the Supreme Court's formal approval of the same, the High Court said.

"In a sense, the in-principle approval of the Supreme Court for providing reservation for OBC candidates in AIQ seats for admission to the under-graduate, post-graduate and diploma medical and dental courses in the State is apparent from the order dated October 26, 2020. To such extent, the provision made for 27 per cent reservation in such regard appears to be permissible, since the Supreme Court approved the implementation of reservation for OBC candidates beginning academic year 2021-22 by the same order", the Court added.

In so holdng, the Court declined to accede to the DMK's contention that a 50 percent OBC reservation should be implemented for AIQ seats in medical colleges of Tamil Nadu, in line with the State's reservation law of 1993.

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The Court reasoned that AIQ reservation must be uniform across States, unless the State involved does not have any medical or dental colleges.

Therefore, Court ruled that the reservation provided for OBC, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Persons with Disabilities in its July 29 notification pertaining to reservation in AIQ seats appears to be in order and in accordance with law.

However, the inclusion of an additional 10 percent vertical reservation for EWS would require approval of Supreme Court and to such extent the reservation for EWS in Centre’s July 29 notification has to be recognised as impermissible till such approval is obtained, the Court said.

On the face of it, the provision of additional reservation above 50 percent as permitted by the 103rd Constitutional amendment appears to fall foul of the Indra Sawhney case, the Court opined. The Court added that it is also possible to read down the dictum in Indra Sawhney to apply it to the constitutional provisions then in place.

However, no conclusive pronouncement on this issue was made since it's validity is pending consideration before Supreme Court's Constitution Bench.

As a footnote, the Madras High Court also commented that the concept of reservation as envisioned by the Constitution's framers seems to have been turned on its head over the years with repeated amendments, the veritable reinvigoration of the caste system and the extension of reservation to denominations where it does not exist.

This has been done instead of empowering citizens so that merit may ultimately decide matters of appointment, admission and promotion, the Court remarked.

"Rather than the caste system being wiped away, the present trend seems to perpetuate it by endlessly extending a measure that was to remain only for a short duration to cover the infancy and, possibly, the adolescence of the Republic. Though the life of a nation-state may not be relatable to the human process of aging, but at over-70, it ought, probably, to be more mature", the Court added.

The DMK had approached the High Court raising concern that OBC reservation would not be implemented this year for AIQ seats, despite High Court directions to do so in a July 2020 judgment.

The High Court had reserved judgment in the matter on August 18.

Senior Advocate P Wilson led the arguments for the DMK. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, ASG KM Nataraj and ASG R Sankaranarayanan appeared for the Central government.

[Read Judgment]

DMK v. Rajesh Bhushan.pdf
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