A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, on Wednesday decided to take a call on February 5 to draw up the schedule of hearing on the 2018 Maharashtra law that grants reservation to the Maratha community in education and jobs, after the state government’s senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi pleaded to hear this nature of case only once physical hearing commences and suggested to hear the matter in March.
The Bench, which also comprised Justices L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat, noted that the Apex Court has been holding only virtual hearing through video-conferencing since March last year and finds the COVID-19 pandemic still raging in the country. The Court had issued an interim order against the government on September 9 while referring the matter to a larger Bench, making it clear that the stay would affect those who have already benefited.
It held a call after two weeks on what was to be done and fixed February 5 to issue the directions and fix the schedule of the hearing.
On December 9, the Court had agreed to the Maharashtra government’s plea that the issues of the Maratha quota need urgent hearing as the law has been stayed and the fruits accrued are not reaching the people. It had also issued notice to Attorney General KK Venugopal for his assistance.
The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, was enacted to grant 16 per cent reservation to people of Maratha community in Maharashtra in jobs and admissions.
The Bombay High Court, while upholding the law in June 2019, had held that 16 per cent reservation was not justifiable and said that quota should not exceed 12 per cent in employment and 13 per cent in admissions, noting that the 102nd amendment to the Constitution allows reservation only if a particular community is named in the list prepared by the President.
On July 27, the Maharashtra government had assured the top court that it would not proceed with the recruitment process to fill up the vacancies on the basis of 12 per cent Maratha reservation till September 15, except for departments of Public Health and Medical Education and Research.
The High Court, in its June 27 last year order, had said that the 50 per cent cap on total reservations imposed by the Supreme Court could be exceeded in exceptional circumstances.
It had also accepted Maharashtra government’s argument that the Maratha community was socially and educationally backward and it was duty-bound to take steps for its progress.
The High Court had said, though the reservation was valid, its quantum — 16 per cent — was not justifiable and it should be reduced to 12 per cent and 13 per cent, as recommended by the State Backward Classes Commission.
One of the pleas filed in the apex court had claimed that the Maharashtra Act be struck down since it breached the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation fixed by the top court in its landmark judgment in the Indira Sawhney case, also known as the ‘Mandal verdict’.