Boost for Marathas
The Bombay High Court verdict in favour of the quota needs examination
Why in news?
- The Bombay High Court upheld reservation for Marathas in the State but quashed the 16% quota by calling it “not justifiable”.
- The court said it should not exceed 12% for education and 13% for jobs as recommended by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC).
Demand for more quotas
- The Bombay High Court verdict upholding reservation for Marathas in public employment and education must come as a major relief to the Maharashtra government, which has faced strident agitations from the community in the past for reservation benefits.
- Though the “legislative competence” of the state governments must be respected, it is important to recognise that numerically strong, socially dominant and politically powerful intermediate castes now covet the “quota” as a convenient option to advance their economic interests.
- Caste constituents are mobilised in large numbers — the Marathas did it and so have the Patidars, Jats and Kapus — to press their case and to signal to political parties that there will be consequences if their demands are ignored.
- These political mobilisations, even when peaceful, bring pressure to bear upon governments to acquiesce.
- This approach is far removed from the radical, constitutionally-mandated policy and purpose of caste reservation, anchored by a moral argument for fair representation of historically marginalised castes and communities in educational institutions and the bureaucracy.
- The government gives in to the “quota” claims since it helps assuage the restive intermediate castes. The crisis in the agrarian sector and slowdown in the rural economy have turned many rural communities insecure. The absence of social security nets, employment stagnation in the formal sector, limited opportunities in higher education, underlie the demand for reservation among them.
- These issues call for imaginative interventions from the state. Providing quotas may temporarily address the insecurity among socially dominant communities, but it is no remedy to a complex structural problem.
- The Maratha quota takes reservation in Maharashtra to 65%, beyond the 50% limit imposed by the Supreme Court following the 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment.
- The HC has justified this transgression of the SC benchmark citing “exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situation” and the “legislative competence” of the Maharashtra government to enact the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018.
- The law is likely to be challenged in the apex court. And the outcome has implications for the architecture of the politically fraught OBC reservation system in the country.
- The Patidars in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh — all socially and politically powerful communities — have been demanding quotas on the basis of claims similar to those of the Marathas.
- The concerned state governments may now be forced to engage with the issue afresh, and even legislate favourably.
- When Maharashtra enacted special legislation to confer reservation benefits in education and public employment on the Maratha community last year, a formidable legal challenge was expected.
- The law created a group called ‘Socially and Educationally Backward Class’ and included Marathas as the sole group under the category, and extended 16% reservation outside the existing quotas for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and other tribes and backward classes.
- The foremost hurdle was the fact that the additional Maratha component would take the reservation up to 68%, thus going beyond the limit of 50% imposed by the Supreme Court.
- Secondly, there were doubts whether one particular caste group could constitute a special class.
- Significantly, it has ruled that there were “exceptional circumstances and an extraordinary situation” to warrant the crossing of the 50% limit.
- It has upheld the government’s decision to accept the Maharashtra Backward Classes Commission’s report on the backwardness of the Maratha community, faulted it for exceeding the panel’s recommendation for 12-13% reservation and pulled back the figure to the recommended level.
- The failure to treat this group as backward for decades has pushed its members deeper into social and educational backwardness. Thus, it says, an extraordinary situation has been created wherein the State had to treat them as a separate category.
- The High Court’s reasoning may not convince many.
- For one thing, it is doubtful whether a politically influential and dominant community can be treated as a special category in itself, even if it is educationally backward and under-represented in the services owing to lack of reservation benefits.
- The uplift of the Marathas can be achieved by including it in the OBC list.
- If there were concerns about too large a population sharing too small a quota, the existing OBC reservation could have been expanded, instead of Marathas being given separate reservation.
- Further, Marathas have been classified as the only member of the newly created ‘SEBC’.
- The court seems to have ignored the fact that being socially and educationally backward is the constitutional reason for OBC reservation.
- It is befuddling how ‘SEBC’ can be a separate category outside the OBCs.
- Further, whether adequate grounds have been established to make an exception to the 50% limit will likely be examined by the Supreme Court closely.
- Mere expansion of the reservation pool is unlikely to be a constitutionally permissible reason for it.
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