A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit on Tuesday reserved for judgment petitions challenging the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment which provides 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions to the economically weaker sections or EWS, but excludes the 'poorest of poor' among Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes from its ambit.
The Bench heard marathon arguments for seven days on the vital issue whether the EWS quota, solely based on economic criterion, violated the basic structure of the Constitution.
The petitioner argued that the amendment was contrary to the equality code.
The hearings saw the court ask the Union whether the EWS reservation encroached on the opportunities of merit-based candidates.
The government maintained that the 10% quota was not an addition to the 50% ceiling on reservation. It said the EWS quota was an "independent compartment". The court had questioned whether the EWS quota would take a piece of the pie from the 50% available to non-reserved or open category who compete purely on the basis of merit. The court had also questioned the exclusion of backward classes from availing the quota.
The government has said that the Central government institutions will increase seats by 25% to accommodate the EWS quota.
Dr. Mohan Gopal, in his rejoinder, said this was the first time that being a member of the forward classes was made a pre-requisite for getting government assistance.
Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj submitted that fundamental rights are individualistic and the government's justification for excluding SC, ST and OBC on the ground that they already take benefit of the 50% quota does not hold water.
Senior advocate P. Wilson said reservation was not a poverty alleviation scheme.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh argued that reservation based solely on economic criterion cannot be sustained in the Constitution.
Earlier in the day, advocate V.K. Biju countered that the amendment was democratically passed and thus not a fraud on the Constitution. He said it was a step towards a casteless society.