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The Chhattisgarh High Court has directed the State government not to proceed with an Ordinance that envisions an increase in the reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in government jobs from 14% to 27%.
The Bench of Chief Justice PR Ramachandra Menon and Justice PP Sahu also berated the State government for making a mockery of proceedings pending in an earlier move to increase reservation in Chhattisgarh.
On August 15 this year, the State government had announced a move to increase the reservation quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in government jobs and educational institutions.
Pursuant to this, an Ordinance was brought in, making amendments to the Chhattisgarh Lok Seva (Anuchit Jatiyon, Anusuchit Jan Jatiyon aur Anya Pichhade Vargon Ke Liye Arakshan) Adhiniyam, 1994. The Ordinance envisioned an increase in the reservation for Scheduled Castes from 12% to 13%, and for Other Backward Classes from 14% to 27%. Additionally, a 10% reservation was introduced for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). The reservation quota for Scheduled Tribes was kept unchanged at 32%.
The Ordinance effectively brought the percentage of reservation in the State to 82 percent.
A number of petitions came to be filed before the Chhattisgarh High Court challenging the Ordinance. The primary contention of the petitioners was that the Ordinance was in violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, which placed a cap on reservations in government jobs at 50%. Moreover, the Ordinance flew in the face of M Nagaraj v. Union of India and Jarnail Singh v. Union of India, wherein it was held that the 50% cap could be exceeded only if there was quantifiable data proving backwardness of a particular class.
It was also contended that the Ordinance was politically motivated and that there was no dire necessity that warranted the introduction of the same.
The State, on the other hand, cited National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data to show that OBCs constitute 45% of the population of the State, and that the authenticity of the said data cannot be disputed by the petitioners.
Given this statistic, it was necessary to bring in the Ordinance so as to remove inequality and to give the OBCs their due share with reference to the extent of the population.
The government also cited examples of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, where similar laws have been introduced taking the reservation cap beyond 50%.
After analysing the number of government posts in the State as against each class, the Bench noted that the figures do not establish that there is any “inadequacy in representation”, insofar as the OBCs are concerned.
The Court also noted that when the State government sought to increase the total reservation from 50% to 58% in 2012, it was convinced that there was no need to increase the quota available for OBCs. In this light, the Bench observed,
“If the extent of reservation to OBC was not felt required to be enhanced in the year 2012, what made the State to bring about the sea-change just after seven years in 2019, that too by way of an ‘Ordinance’ is a matter to be looked into; more so when ‘inadequate representation’ is different from ‘proportionate representation’ as held by the ‘Nine’ Member Bench in Indra Sawhney’s case.”
The Court also shed light on the fact that the 2012 move of the government had been challenged in the High Court, and that petitions assailing the same were pending. In those petitions, the High Court had passed an order stating that the move to increase the reservation quota would be subject to the outcome of the petitions. It had refused to grant an interim stay.
This “magnanimity”, the present Bench noted, was taken for granted by the State, which proceeded to pass an Ordinance to further increase the reservation quota, even as the previous challenge was pending.
“Though, the State was very much aware that they were put on alert by the Bench, showing the magnanimity not to grant any interim stay for the time being, the State took it as granted and has come up with the present ‘Ordinance’ enhancing the reservation further to an extent of 72% + 10% EWS, making a total of 82%. We are, prima-facie, of the view that this amounts to mockery of the process and proceedings, paying scant regards to the orders passed by this Court.”
With this observation, the High Court directed the State not to pursue any further steps providing benefits flowing from the Ordinance to OBCs until further orders.
However, the Bench refused to mention anything with regard to the aspect of 10% reservation for EWS, a challenge to which is pending in the Supreme Court.
The matter has been listed for four weeks from Friday.
Advocates Palash Tiwari and Vaibhav Shukla appeared for the petitioners.