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Maratha quota: Earned after agitation, struck down by court

Maratha quota | Uddhav Thackeray government failed to present strong case, says BJP

State’s lawyers failed to convince court that Gaikwad Commission report was not one-sided, says Fadnavis

May 05, 2021 04:59 pm | Updated 11:48 pm IST - Pune

Former Chief Minister and BJP Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis. File

Former Chief Minister and BJP Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis. File

The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday flayed the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government for failing to fight hard for the community’s interests in the Supreme Court to get the Maratha quota law implemented in Maharashtra.

Former Chief Minister and BJP Leader of Opposition (LoP) Devendra Fadnavis rued the sheer lack of coordination between the State government and the lawyers who were making the case for upholding the quota law.

“The Supreme Court’s judgment is especially disheartening given that our previous government had successfully made the Maratha quota law stick in the Bombay High Court despite the reservation being challenged, and had strongly put forward our case before the Supreme Court where it was challenged again by a petitioner,” said Mr. Fadnavis.

Delay in filing review petition

Detailing the blunders committed by the MVA leadership, Mr. Fadnavis said the State government delayed inordinately in filing a review petition while a complete lack of coordination with their advocates led to several adjournments.

“Furthermore, the Justice N.G. Gaikwad Commission report was not translated on time…as a result, the Supreme Court bench was curious why no one had spoken against the report and its suggestions, causing them to regard the report as a one-sided document, biased in favour of the Maratha community. In reality, there were scores of objections and petitions against the Gaikwad Commission’s suggestions. But all of this had been resolved satisfactorily by the Commission. The State’s advocates failed to bring these facts before the Supreme Court,” Mr. Fadnavis said.

He also said the Gaikwad Commission had clearly explained why the reservation in the State needed to be raised above the 50% ceiling by giving the Maratha community a quota and how the community’s demand fitted in the purview of the 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment (which fixed the reservation limit at 50% while making exceptions in an extraordinary situation for bringing far-flung and remote areas population into mainstream).

Mr. Fadnavis said the State government’s inadequate efforts were especially regrettable given that in nine States, the reservation limit had exceeded 50%.

Only consolation

“The only consolation in the SC’s judgment is that previous reservations under the Maratha quota law would not be scrapped…while there is considerable anger among the community, it is important now to see what alternatives can be pursued. We urge the State government to study the judgment and form a committee of constitutional experts and ask them to present a report before all parties in the State for future action,” he said.

Speaking in Mumbai, senior BJP leader and former Cabinet Minister Advocate Ashish Shelar remarked that the State government must set aside its ‘ego’ and work in conjunction with the BJP to ensure benefits for the Maratha community within a particular legal framework.

“The Thackeray government must not make its failure to uphold the Maratha quota law in the Apex court an ego issue…the BJP is willing to work with the State government to take decisions that will benefit the Maratha community,” said the MLA from the Bandra West constituency.

Mr. Shelar urged the government to work out a solution for giving benefits to the Maratha community without compromising the quotas of other backward castes and communities falling under the OBC, SC (Scheduled castes) and NT (nomadic tribes) categories.

Observing that the erstwhile Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government had never supported the Gaikwad Commission’s work (set up to study the condition of the Maratha community), Mr. Shelar said the two parties — which are part of the MVA coalition along with the Shiv Sena — had always opposed the institutes and organisations that were studying the quota problem.

“We had our doubts right from the start whether this government would tenaciously take up the issue of Maratha reservation in the Supreme Court. Especially given that the previous Congress-NCP regime had obstructed the work of the Gaikwad Commission and did not support its suggestions. Hence, the Supreme Court today scrapped the Gaikwad Commission’s report, which had been accepted by the Bombay High Court,” Mr. Shelar said.

He said the State’s lawyers had failed to convince the Supreme Court that the community’s case was “an extraordinary instance” and that the reservation limit must be raised above 50%.

Unprepared to tackle the issue

“As a result, the five-judge bench refused to revisit the 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment. The MVA government was clearly unprepared to tackle the issue. Our [the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government] had set up a State Backward Class Commission to thoroughly study the quota issue before mooting the reservation bill in the State Legislature,” said the BJP leader, pointing out that the Fadnavis government had successfully ensured that the bill stuck in the Bombay High Court even when it was challenged there.

Contrasting his government’s performance with that of the Thackeray government, Mr. Shelar said the lawyers appointed by the MV did not reach the Supreme Court on time during the early hearings.

“Furthermore, no discussions were held with the Maratha community leaders nor were any advocates’ meetings held. Overall, the State had government had not planned well,” he said.

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