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OBC Quota Cannot Breach 50% Ceiling: Supreme Court

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Case Name: Vikas Kishanrao Gawali vs. State Of Maharashtra [WP 980  2019]


In a judgement on Thursday [4 March 2021] the Supreme Court ruled that the reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) was purely statutory in contrast to the constitutional reservation for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) based on population proportion. The Supreme Court also ruled that OBC reservation in local governments did not exceed 50% of total reservation for SCs, STs, and OBCs.

Facts of the case

The present case was the combination of various writ petitions which were filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. In these petitions, Section 12(2)(c) of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis Act was challenged. It was said that this section was ultravires to Article 243D, 243T, 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. The validity of the Maharashtra State Election Commission’s notifications dated 27.7.2018 and 14.2.2020, which provided for a reservation of more than 50% in Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis in the districts of Washim, Akola, Nagpur, and Bhandara had also been challenged. 

In these matters, the main problem revolved around the exposition of this Court’s Constitution Bench which was given in the case of K. Krishna Murthy and Ors. vs. Union of India and Anr”. The Constitution Bench acknowledged that most state legislation provisions would need to be reviewed, but leaving the validity of those provisions open allowed for particular issues to be raised by pointing out weaknesses in the identification of backward groups based on empirical evidence. Despite it, the Maharashtra legislature did not review the existing provisions that violated the law proclaimed by this Court. 

As a result, various writ petitions were filed in the High Court of Maharashtra in which the government gave the assurance that it would look into the matter and would make the corrective changes in light of the directions given by the Constitutional bench. But, the situation remained unchanged and petitions were filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.

Pleadings before the Court

In this case, the learned Counsel on behalf of the Respondent state contended that the Hon’ble Supreme Court should not listen to the matter filed by writ petitions as the same matter was pending before the High Court of Maharashtra for the same relief. 

It was also pleaded by the Respondent in their written statement that the matter should be postponed for further hearing. It was also urged that the Supreme Court should not exercise the plenary powers given under Article 142 of the Constitution of India. In addition to it, the Court should also abjure from disturbing the elections which were already completed.

Court’s observation

The bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar, Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi observed that unlike the “judicial” reservation for SCs/STs, which was related to population proportion, reservation for OBCs was only a “statutory” dispensation to be granted by state legislations. Also, the Court observed concerning the state legislation providing seats for the Other Backward Classes that it should ensure that the total vertical reservation for SCs, STs, and OBCs combined did not exceed 50% of the seats in the concerned local bodies.

Court’s judgement

The Court ruled that Section 12(2)(c) was an enabling clause that should be read down to mean that it could only be used if three conditions were met before notifying the seats in the concerned local bodies as reserved for OBCs. These conditions were: firstly, setting up of a dedicated Commission to conduct a contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness of local bodies within the State; secondly, specifying the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise in light of recommendations of the Commission; and thirdly, in any case, such reservation should not exceed an aggregate of 50 percent of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together.

The notifications of the Election commission were also quashed by the Supreme Court to the degree that they provided for OBC seat reservations. As a result, the election results of OBC candidates who were made subject to the outcome of the writ petitions were declared as non-est in law. It was ruled that the vacancy of seats caused on account of this declaration should be forthwith filled up by the State Election Commission.

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