Supreme Court studies if Vanniyar quota pleas need to be referred to larger Bench

State law provides 10.5% special reservation to Vanniyars, a most backward community

Published - February 15, 2022 05:37 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai heard submissions on the question of reference. File

A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai heard submissions on the question of reference. File

The Supreme Court on Tuesday began examining whether petitions challenging a Madras High Court decision declaring ultra vires a State quota law, which provided 10.5% special reservation to Vanniyars, a most backward community, ought to be referred to a larger Bench. A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai heard submissions on the question of reference. “We want to first hear submissions on the issue of reference. If we feel that the matter can be decided here without referring it to a larger Bench, we can decide it here,” Justice Rao said at one point.

Constitutional issues

Several senior lawyers submitted that the case involved constitutional issues and would require a dive into the 102nd and 105th Constitutional Amendments. The 102nd Amendment Act of 2018 gave the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) constitutional validity. It allowed the President to notify the list of socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC) for any State or union territory. However, the subsequent 105th Constitutional Amendment restored the power to identify and specify SEBCs to the States. A dozen special leave petitions have been filed by the Tamil Nadu government, which have filed multiple pleas; the Pattali Makkal Katchi party; K. Balu, etc. Senior advocates, including Rajeev Dhawan, A.M. Singhvi, Rakesh Dwivedi, Mukul Rohatgi, C.S. Vaidyanathan, P. Wilson and Gopal Sankaranarayan and advocates D. Kumanan, Varun K. Chopra and Nishe Rajen Shonker are appearing in the case. Averments were made to the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institution and of Appointments or Posts in the Services under the State) Act. This law led to 69% reservation in the State. The Act was brought under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. Article 31B of the Constitution states that none of the Acts that are included under the Ninth Schedule “shall be deemed to be void, or ever to have become void... notwithstanding any judgment, decree or order of any court or tribunal to the contrary”. The State government has argued that the Madras High Court order was based on an erroneous view that State had no legislative competence and the special reservation was provided with caste as basis and without quantifiable data.

‘Pioneer State’

The government said Tamil Nadu had been a “pioneer State with regard to grant of reservation”. “The Most Backward Classes within the Backward Classes were identified in Tamil Nadu as early as in 1957, when they were considered equivalent to Scheduled Castes but without the factor of untouchability,” the petition explained. It stated that some of these communities were impacted by the criminal tribes’ laws of the British and enlisted as Most Backward Classes. The recommendation for 10.5% reservation to the Vanniyakula Kshatriya was made in commensuration with their population as enumerated in a survey held in 1983 by the Tamil Nadu Second Backward Classes Commission.

‘Adequate authenticated data’

“The State had enacted the Act in 2021 only based on adequate authenticated data on the population of the Most Backward Classes and Denotified Communities enumerated by the Tamil Nadu Second Backward Classes Commission in the year 1983,” the government has contended. Tamil Nadu said the castewise population data disclosed by the Commission was the “only authenticated data available as of now before the State; and such data can be used effectively to plan for sub-classification within backward classes of citizens”. “Totally brushing aside such an authentic survey just for the insignificant observations in the note of dissenting Members of that Commission on the population enumerated on few of the communities in the order [of the High Court] cannot be sustained,” the State petition said in the apex court. The High Court had decided to focus on these observations rather than the “stupendous” exercise conducted for two years by the Commission and the State for enumeration of the data, it stated.

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