The Rajasthan High Court on Thursday restrained the Bharatiya Janata Party government from implementing the provisions of a Bill passed in the State Assembly last month, by which it increased reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) from 21% to 26%. This is a setback to the government’s effort to give quota benefits to Gujjars.
The Bill, passed on October 26, created the “most backward” category within the OBCs for providing reservation to Gujjars and four other nomadic communities in government employment and educational institutions.
The Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointment and Posts in Services under the State) Bill, 2017, gave 5% reservation to the Gujjar, Banjara, Gadia-Lohar, Raika and Gadariya communities. With its passage, reservation in Rajasthan stood at 54%, exceeding the 50% ceiling mandated by the Supreme Court.
A Division Bench at the High Court's Jaipur Bench sought to know from Advocate-General Narpat Mal Lodha whether the State government wanted to enforce the Bill’s provisions even while the matter regarding the quota given earlier was pending in the Supreme Court. The court said the State government should obtain permission from the Supreme Court before going ahead with the new arrangement.
“Instead of bringing piecemeal legislation, why doesn't the government get the Constitution amended,” observed the Bench, comprising Justices K.S. Jhaveri and V.K. Vyas, while hearing a writ petition moved by Ganga Sahai Sharma challenging the Bill. The court said the State government was trying to take a “populist view” in the matter.
Gujjars and others were earlier grouped as a special backward class and the State government had tried thrice to grant 5% reservation to them. However, the legislation was struck down every time by the High Court, which ruled that the quota had not only exceeded the 50% limit, but was also not supported by the quantifiable data supporting the claim of Gujjars’ backwardness.
Following an agitation by Gujjars, the BJP government assured them that the revised OBC quota would be split to grant 5% quota to the “most backward classes”. Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Arun Chaturvedi said while replying to a debate on the Bill in the Assembly that reservation had been enhanced in proportion to increase in the State’s OBC population, which was “legally permissible”.
Mr. Sharma contended in his public interest litigation plea that the issuance of a notification under the new Bill would create complications, as it would result in giving employment against vacancies which would create third party rights and give rise to multiple litigation.
The State government has maintained that as per the Supreme Court's ruling in the Indra Sawhney case, special circumstances exist in Rajasthan for giving reservation to the OBCs beyond the 50% ceiling. The State OBC Commission has recommended quota to the communities classified as OBCs, which comprise 52% of the State's population.
The Congress reacted sharply to the State government's failure to defend its move in the High Court. Pradesh Congress president Sachin Pilot said the BJP government, which lacked the political will to give quota to Gujjars, had not taken any step to get this and the previous Bills included in Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.