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The Court also ruled that admissions to postgraduate courses will not be altered. The matter will now be placed for Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, who will constitute a larger bench.
The Supreme Court today referred to a larger Bench 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.
The Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat has held that in the meanwhile, there will be no such reservation in jobs and admissions.
The Court has further ruled that admissions to postgraduate courses will not be altered. The matter will now be placed for Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, who will constitute a larger bench. The judgment says:
As the interpretation of the provisions inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 is a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution of India, these Appeals are referred to a larger Bench. These matters shall be placed before Hon’ble The Chief Justice of India for suitable orders.
Admissions to educational institutions for the academic year 2020-21 shall be made without reference to the reservations provided in the Act. We make it clear that the Admissions made to PostGraduate Medical Courses shall not be altered.
Appointments to public services and posts under the Government shall be made without implementing the reservation as provided in the Act.
The Court was considering an appeal against the decision of the Maharashtra High Court which had upheld the Maratha Reservations in education and employment where the High Court had allowed for the breaching of the upper ceiling of 50% reservation that was laid down in the Indra Sawhney judgment.
The Bench had heard the parties on the question of reference of the matter to an 11-Judge Constitution Bench on the issue of 50% cap on reservations, a point of contention that emerged from this case.
Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi, representing the State of Maharashtra, and Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing an applicant, urged the Court to refer the issue of the 50% ceiling on reservation to a larger Bench.
The SEBC Act provides for reservation for the Maratha community in the State of Maharashtra. The decision of the Bombay High Court upholding the law with modifications was challenged before the Supreme Court. One of primary grounds for challenge was that this law, if implemented, would breach the 50% upper ceiling put in place for reservations.
With the change in demographics of society, there is a need for the upper ceiling to be revised, the Senior Counsel in support of the SEBC Act had argued. It was further argued that this case needed to be examined by a Bench of 11 Judges, considering that the judgment delivered in the Indra Sawhney case was delivered by a 9-Judge Bench.
Counsel in favour of making the reference to a Constitution Bench had argued that after the 103rd amendment providing for the EWS reservation, the ceiling fixed at 50% was breached in almost all states.
It was pointed out to the Court that in the Janhit Abhiyan case, the challenge to the Constitutional amendment providing for EWS reservation has been referred to a Constitution Bench. Therefore, a statutory enactment like SEBC Act also should be similarly referred.
On the other hand, Senior Counsel like Arvind Datar and Gopal Sankarnarayanan who opposed the reference, argued that if the Court decides on the SLP filed and concludes that the Maratha community is not socially and educationally backward and as such not eligible for the reservation in the first place, the question of breaching 50% is rendered void and the matter may not be needed to be referred at all.
It was urged by these lawyers that the matter be heard on merits and if during the hearing the Court is of the opinion that a reference is needed, the same can be done at that later stage.
While referring the case to a larger Bench, the Court observed that the upper limit of 50% for reservation is fixed as a rule of law and it is evident that the same is allowed to be relaxed only in extraordinary cases. The equality guaranteed under Article 16(1) has to be balanced against the reservation provided for under Article 16(4) where the 50% cap also comes into play.
The judgment explains,
In view of this law, the Court remarked that the givernment of Maharashtra had failed to prove the extraordinary circumstances owing to which the upper cap would be needed to be relaxed for extending reservation benefit to the Maratha Community.
The Court also noted that this community which comprises almost 30% of the population of the State of Maharashtra cannot be termed as a marginalized community living in far-flung areas.
Observing that the Bombay High Court committed an error is allowing for relaxation of the rule the Supreme Court said that,
As such, the Court referred the matter to a larger Bench with these observations and prima facie view.
Moreover, the Court noted that cancellation of admissions and employments given under the quota would be difficult and the implementation of the Act would cause irreparable damage and that is why the Court has effectively stayed the implementation of the Act going forward while directing that the admissions already given shall not be altered.