In a significant judgment having national ramifications, the Andhra Pradesh High Court on Monday struck down the 4 per cent reservation provided by the State government to selected sections of Muslims in education and public employment.
These sections were categorised as additional “E” group and included in the existing Backward Classes enjoying reservation, first through an ordinance and then legislation. Five judges on the Bench allowed the writ petitions challenging this Act 26 of 2007, while two differed with this view. The report of the A.P. Commission for Backward Classes, which was relied upon by the government for extending the reservation, came in for severe criticism by the judges.
Declaring the A.P. Reservation in favour of Socially Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act, 2007 “unsustainable,” the five judges opined that the Act “is religion-specific and potentially encourages religious conversions.” The majority judgment pronounced by Chief Justice A.R. Dave said the government’s action was based solely upon the findings and recommendations of the report of the Commission, and the procedural error committed by the Commission was fatal to its report and its consequent recommendations.
Chief Minister K. Rosaiah directed Advocate-General D.V. Seetharama Murthy to immediately take action for filing a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against the judgment. He reiterated the government’s commitment to providing 4 per cent reservation to the Backward Class Muslims. Barring the BJP, all political parties expressed concern at the judgment and wanted the government to take steps to restore the quota.
This is the third time the government is facing an embarrassment over the quota for Muslims. To keep its election promise, the government had issued an administrative order in 2004 providing 5 per cent reservation for all Muslims, relying on a report by the A.P. Minorities Finance Corporation. This was struck down by the High Court. The government then constituted a BC commission and, based on its report, brought about the enactment in 2005, which was again rejected by the court.
In the latest judgment on Monday, the court said that it was deplorable that the BC Commission was not even aware of the total population of the groups of Muslims selected for inclusion in the E category among the Backward Classes. It found the sample survey faulty and the quick survey in the name and style of fast track method was termed “hit and run method.”
The court said the BC Commission failed to formulate the criteria for identifying the backward classes among the Muslims and simply conducted a household survey in places close to its hand.
The 137-page judgment was given by Chief Justice Dave on behalf of himself, Justice A. Gopala Reddy, Justice V. Eswariah and Justice Goda Raguram. Justice T. Meena Kumari gave a separate judgment running to 77 pages allowing the writ petitions, but giving different reasons. Justice B. Prakasha Rao and Justice D.S.R. Varma differed with the findings of the five judges.