New Delhi: In a significant judgement, the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to refer to a larger bench to revisit its 29 year old Mandal verdict putting cap on quotas at 50 per cent as it quashed a Maharashtra law granting reservations to Marathas in admissions and government jobs in the state, saying it violated the principle of right to equality.
The top court said that no Âextraordinary circumstancesÂ were made out in granting separate reservation of Maratha Community by exceeding the 50 per cent ceiling limit of reservation.
It said that to change the 50 per cent limit is to have a society which is not founded on equality but based on caste rule and if the reservation goes above 50 per cent limit which is reasonable, it will be a slippery slope, the political pressure, make it hardly to reduce the same.
The apex court observed that Âwhen more people aspire for backwardness instead of forwardness, the country itself stagnates which situation is not in accord with constitutional objectivesÂ.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan unanimously held, ÂThe Act, 2018 (Maharashtra Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018)violates the principle of equality as enshrined in Article 16. The exceeding of the ceiling limit without there being any exceptional circumstances clearly violates Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution which makes the enactment ultra viresÂ.
Justice Bhushan, who wrote a separate 411-page verdict for himself and Justice SA Nazeer said, ÂWe thus conclude that the Act, 2018 as amended in 2019, granting separate reservation for Maratha community has not made out any exceptional circumstances to exceed the ceiling of 50 per cent reservationÂ.
The bench, however, unanimously upheld the validity of 102nd Constitutional amendment but in 3:2 verdict held that enactment has taken away the power of states to identify Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC).
Writing the majority 158-page judgement on this aspect, Justice S Ravindra Bhat, whose views were concurred by Justices LN Rao and Hemant Gupta, said, ÂBy introduction of Articles 366 (26C) and 342A through the 102nd Constitution of India, the President alone, to the exclusion of all other authorities, is empowered to identify SEBCs and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1), which shall be deemed to include SEBCs in relation to each state and union territory for the purposes of the Constitution.
However, all the five judges held the 102 Constitutional amendment does not affect the federal polity and did not violate the basic structure of the Constitution.
While dealing with the question of reference, the top court rejected the Maharashtra government submission that only three judges in 1992 Indra Sawhney verdict also called 'Mandal verdict' have held that 50 per cent cannot be breached while six other judges have held that it can be breached.
ÂWe, thus, do not find any good ground to revisit Indra Sawhney or to refer the same to a larger Bench on the above ground urgedÂ, it said, adding that the majority opinion in the 1992 verdict has held that normally reservation should not exceed 50 per cent and it is only in extra-ordinary circumstances it can exceed 50 percent.
It said that to change the 50 per cent limit is to have a society which is not founded on equality but based on caste rule and added that the judgment of Indra Sawhney has been repeatedly followed by this Court and has received approval by at least four Constitution Benches of this Court.
It said that the 50 per cent rule affirmed in the 1992 verdict is to fulfill the objective of equality as engrafted in Article 14 of which Articles 15 and 16 are facets and 50 per cent cap is reasonable and it is to attain the object of equality.
ÂWe are of the considered opinion that the cap on percentage of reservation as has been laid down by Constitution Bench in Indra Sawhney is with the object of striking a balance between the rights under Article 15(1) and 15(4) as well as Articles 16(1) and 16(4). The cap on percentage is to achieve the principle of equality and with the object to strike a balance which cannot be said to be arbitrary or unreasonable,Â it said.
The bench said that providing reservation for advancement of any SEBC in public services is not the only means and method for improving the welfare of backward class and added that Maratha are adequately represented in services with the community bagging 33.23 per cent of open category posts.
It said, "Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution which are facets of right of equality were incorporated as fundamental rights to translate the ideals and objectives of the Constitution and to give opportunities to the backward class of the society so as to enable them to catch up those who are ahead of them".
The top court said that Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission headed by MG Gaikwad and the Bombay High Court treated the extraordinary situations, the fact that population of backward class is 85 per cent and reservation limit is only 50 per cent.
ÂThe extraordinary circumstance as opined by the Commission and approved by the High Court is not extraordinary situation as referred to inÂ of Indra Sawhney judgment. The Marathas are a dominant forward class and are in the mainstream of National lifeÂ, it said, adding that both the commission and the high court fell in error accepting as extraordinary circumstances.