SC Refers Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 to a Constitutional Bench

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On September 9, a 3 Judge SC Bench held that the interpretation of the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 is a substantial question of law. The same was therefore referred to a Constitutional Bench. The Maratha Quota case led to this decision. 

Background 

The Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 declared Marathas to be a “Socially and Educationally Backward Class”. The reservation pertained to admission in educational institutes and for appointments in the Public Services and posts under the State. Reservations limit was up to the extent of 16 per cent of the total seats in educational institutions including private educational institutions. Similarly, a 16 per cent limit was on the total appointments in direct recruitment for public services and posts under the State. These were separately made for “socially and educationally backward classes”. 

A PIL in the Bombay High Court challenged the constitutional validity of the Act. The High Court upheld the constitutionality of the Act. However, the Court reduced the quantum of reservations provided therein from 16 per cent to 12 per cent in respect of the educational institutions. Subsequently, the reservation was duly reduced from 16 per cent to 13 per cent in respect of public employment.

The Appellants challenged the correctness of the Judgment of the High Court by filing the present Appeals. 

Applicant’s Contentions

The Applicants contended that there are substantial questions of law on the interpretation of the Constitution that arise in the Appeals. The same should be duly referred to a larger Bench. It was further submitted that Articles 338-B and 342-A inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 fall for consideration by this Court for the first time. It was further submitted that there is a need for reconsideration of the judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India given the changing social conditions.

The Marathas have not been wrongly treated as a backward class. The balance of convenience is in favour of the General category candidates who would be subsequently deprived of a substantial number of seats in Educational Institutions and posts in public services on implementation of the Act. 

Respondent’s Contentions

Larger Benches of the Court previously deliberated on reservations exceeding 50 per cent. Hence, there is no need to refer the Appeals to a larger Bench.

Court’s Observations

A 3 Judge Bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat heard the matter. The Bench made the following observations:

  1. a) The question relating to the extent of reservation has been already decided by the SC in Indra Sawhney case. This was duly re-affirmed in M. Nagaraj case. No substantial question of law on the interpretation of the Constitution arises in this case 
  2. b) However, there is no authoritative pronouncement on the interpretation of the provisions inserted by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018. The interpretation of Articles 338-B and 342-A inserted by the Act involves a substantial question of law on the interpretation of the Constitution. The determination of such a question is necessary for the disposal of the Appeal. 
  3. c) There is no absolute rule to restrain passing of Interim Orders when an enactment is ex facie un-constitutional or contrary to the law laid down by the Court. 
  4. d) The State of Maharashtra has not shown any extraordinary situation for providing reservations to Marathas over 50 per cent. Maratha community comprising 30 per cent of the population in the State is not comparable to marginalized sections of the society. The State has failed to make out a special case for providing reservation over 50 per cent. The State has not exercised any caution in doing so. 
  5. e) The social, educational and economic backwardness of a community, the existence of quantifiable data relating to the inadequacy of representation of the community in public services and deprivation of the benefits flowing from reservations to the community are not exceptional circumstances for providing reservations over 50 per cent. The Bench was of the prima facie opinion that the High Court committed an error in treating the above factors as extraordinary circumstances, warranting relaxation of the strict rule of 50 per cent. 

Court’s Decision 

The Bench passed the following orders: 

  1. a) Appeals referred to a larger Bench. The Chief Justice of India will pass suitable orders for the matter. 
  2. b) Admissions to educational institutions for the academic year 2020-21 will be duly made without reference to the reservations provided in the Act. No alteration will be currently made to the Admissions to Postgraduate Medical Courses. 
  3. c) Appointments to public services and posts under the Government shall be without implementing the reservation as provided in the Act.

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