Maratha quota: SC to hear on July 15 plea challenging Bombay HC order

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The Supreme Court fixed July 15 to hear and pass interim orders on a batch of appeals challenging a Bombay High Court decision upholding a State law providing reservation to Maratha community in education and government jobs in Maharashtra.

The appeals filed by individuals from all walks of life and NGOs have challenged the High Court decision allowing 12-13% quota to Maratha community under the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act. They have argued that the High Court decision is seriously erroneous as the State law has breached the 50% cap on reservation fixed by a Constitution Bench in the Indira Sawhney judgment.

Initially, a three-judge Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao on Tuesday suggested hearing the pleas on merits on a day-to-day basis from early August.

But senior advocates Shyam Divan, Mukul Rohatgi and P.S. Patwalia said virtual court hearings may not be sufficient, considering the complicated nature of the case.

Physical court hearing

Mr. Divan pressed for a physical court hearing in a controlled atmosphere. Mr. Rohatgi asked for the case to be heard in September rather than August.

Finally, Justice Rao acquiesced to the lawyers and said the case would be listed on Wednesday next week before the virtual court for passing interim orders.

Mr. Divan had urged for interim orders, saying the postgraduate exams in Maharashtra are due on July 31 and should be extended to September 30. He said the total quota now in Maharashtra was 72%.

In 2019, the Supreme Court had refused to stay the State law but had directed Maharashtra to refrain from implementing the quota with retrospective effect from 2014.

The direction had come after senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for one of the petitioners, submitted that the Maharashtra government was using the quota law retrospectively from 2014 to fill about 70,000 government vacant posts.

‘Political pressure’

The appeals had argued that the reservation law was enacted under “political pressure” and in “full defiance” of the rule of law and equality. “Maharashtra government has made a mockery of the rule of law. It has also used its constitutional powers arbitrarily and purely for political gains,” they said.

“The High Court erred in concluding that the mere fact that other OBCs would have to share their reservation quotas with the Marathas (if the Marathas were simply included in the existing OBC category) constitutes an exceptional circumstance warranting a breach of the 50% ceiling limit set by Indira Sawhney,” one of the appeals said.

They said the SEBC Act was “unconstitutional” for violating the Bombay High Court’s 2015 order without removing its basis, overstepping the constitutional limitations contained in the 102nd Amendment to the Constitution and for merely succumbing to political pressure, in complete violation of the constitutional principles of rule of law. According to the 102nd amendment to the Constitution, reservation can be granted only if a particular community is named in the list prepared by the President.

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