The Supreme Court has refused to re-examine its1992 verdict, which put a cap of 50% on quota, turning down the plea made by various states that the ceiling fixed by court be scrapped and they be allowed to grant reservation beyond it. A five-judge Constitution bench said that its three decade-old verdict in the Indra Sawhney case has stood the test of time and rejected the plea of states that 50% ceiling needed to be relaxed due to changed social dynamics.
The bench, comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat, unanimously decided that the cap on reservation was fixed “to achieve principle of equality and with an object to strike a balance which cannot be said to be arbitrary or unreasonable”.
“To change the 50% limit is to have a society which is not founded on equality but based on caste rule. Democracy is an essential feature of our Constitution and part of our basic structure. If the reservation goes above 50% limit which is a reasonable, it will be a slippery slope, the political pressure makes it hard to reduce the same. Thus, answer to the question posed is that the percentage of 50% has been arrived at on the principle of reasonability and achieves equality as enshrined by Article 14 of which Articles 15 and 16 are facets,” Justice Bhushan said in his judgment.
The verdict may have implications on reservation to economically weaker sections (EWS), which also breaches the 50% rule and the matter is pending before SC. Almost all the state governments put up a united front before the apex court to press for removal of the cap. The bench, however, stood firm, holding that the 50% cap can be breached only in extraordinary and exceptional cases.
“What was held by the Constitution Bench in Indra Sawhney case on the relevance and significance of the principle of stare decisis clearly binds us. The judgment of Indra Sawhney has stood the test of the time and has never been doubted by any judgment of this court. The Constitution Bench judgment of this court in Indra Sawhney neither needs to be revisited nor referred to a larger Bench for consideration,” the bench said while rejecting the plea of state governments, including that of Maharashtra, for referring the issue to a 11-judge bench.
“There can be no quarrel that society changes, law changes, people change but that does not mean that something which is good and proven to be beneficial in maintaining equality in the society should also be changed in the name of change alone,” the court said as it rejected the plea that the changed dynamics of society warranted that the 50% quota was scrapped.
Maratha quota quashed
In a setback to the Maharashtra government, the Supreme Court declared the state law to grant reservation to Maratha community as unconstitutional and held that the community is not socially and educationally backward to be eligible to be brought within the ambit of affirmative action. A five-judge Constitution bench was unanimous in its view on the unconstitutionality of the law and quashed it on various grounds, including breaching of the 50% quota rule. The SC rued after 70 years of Independence, more and more people and communities are vying to be declared as “backward” to get reservation benefits. The decision will cause disquiet in the politically influential community and put the Shiv Sena-led government in a spot. However, the ruling is unlikely to be altered, and the law - brought in by the previous BJP-Sena government - is likely to remain a non-starter. Ironically, it is Sena, which will have to deal with the political hot potato.