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SC Strikes Down Maratha Quota Law: Declares it unconstitutional

The Supreme Court, while hearing a plea on the infamous Maratha Quota Law, declared that the law is unconstitutional and that there were no exceptional circumstances to grant reservation in excess of a 50% ceiling limit. The apex court struck down the findings of Justice N.G. Gaikwad Commission, which led to the enactment of Maratha Quota Law, and set aside the Bombay High Court judgment which validated the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018. The bench also denied revisiting the 50% reservation ceiling imposed in the Indira-Sawhney case of 1992.

Prior to this, In June 2019, the Bombay High Court, while upholding the Maratha quota, had said that 16% reservation is not justifiable and ruled that reservation should not exceed 12% in employment and 13% in education as recommended by the State Backward Commission. Following the judgement, appeals were filed before the honourable Supreme Court against the Bombay HC’s verdict, where in June 2019, the SC referred the case to a larger bench to decide whether the State had the powers to declare a class socially and economically backwards. The apex court heard the matter in March 2021, after which it found the Maratha reservation Law unconstitutional and struck down the law.

What did the Judgement say?

A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, S. Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat, heard the matter extensively for 10 days consecutively and had reserved the judgement in the case on 26th March.

According to a report published on livelaw.in, Justice Ashok Bhushan, the presiding judge, read out the operative portion of the judgement saying -“Neither the Gaikwad Commission nor the High Court has made out any situation for exceeding the ceiling of 50% reservation for Marathas. Therefore, we find there are no extraordinary circumstances for exceeding the ceiling.”

The bench struck down the reservation given to Marathas in job and education. However, the bench clarified that the judgment will not affect the PG Medical Admissions under the Maratha quota made till 09.09.2020. A Constitution Bench pronounced judgement in a batch of pleas challenging the Maharashtra SEBC Act, 2018, which provides 16% reservation for Marathas in jobs and education. After the grant of the Maratha quota, the reservation in the state rose to 68%. The bench further held that there was no need to revisit the 50% ceiling limit on reservation laid down by the 9-judge bench decision in the historic Indira Sawhney case. It also dismissed the petitions challenging the 102nd Constitution Amendment, which introduced the National Commission for Backward Classes. The bench rejected the argument that the 102nd Constitution amendment violated the basic structure of the Constitution.

What is the Indira Sawhney Judgement of 1992?

The Indira Sawhney case of 1992 acts as a reference for courts, whenever matters related to Reservation come before their disposal. In the Historic Indira Sawhney & others vs Union of India case of 1992, a nine-judge Bench of the court had drawn the line for providing reservation in jobs and education at 50%, except in “extraordinary circumstances”. A nine-judge constitutional bench involved in the judgment had categorically said “50% shall be the rule, only in certain exceptional and extraordinary situations for bringing far-flung and remote areas population into mainstream said 50% rule can be relaxed”. However, over the years, a few Indian states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have crossed the limit and have framed laws to allow reservation exceeding not 50 but even the 60% mark. 

The judgement of the Supreme Court on Maratha Quota today carries much significance since it may impact similar other laws passed by different state legislatures in the past which clearly violate the 50% limit of reservation. Also, the constitutional validity of reservations provided for economically weaker sections (EWS) in 2019, by the Central government, can also come under question since it is in excess of the 50% ceiling, just like the Maratha Quota, and the matter is pending before the Supreme Court for hearing for more than a year.

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