SC to fast-track hearing of appeals against Maratha quota

File photo for representational purpose only.

File photo for representational purpose only.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court will begin hearing on a day-to-day basis from July 27 a batch of appeals challenging a Bombay High Court decision upholding a State law providing reservation to the Maratha community in education and government jobs in Maharashtra.

A three-judge Bench, led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao, on Wednesday decided to go ahead and hear the appeals via the prevalent virtual court system, saying the chances of returning to the physical court mode looked slim for the time being and the case cannot wait any longer. The court, however, declined passing any interim orders.

The court asked the advocates involved in the case to work out the modalities of their presentation of arguments.

Doubts on virtual hearings

The lawyers leading the sides like senior advocate Shyam Divan raised doubts whether the case, which involves complicated questions of law on quota, could be argued effectively through the virtual court system. But he also emphasised the urgency of the case.

Mr. Divan, taking note of the constraints posed by the present health crisis and the “tremendous urgency” for a decision in the case, urged for a short date. He submitted that the court should also revisit the need for an interlocutory relief.

Mr. Divan had sought interim orders on the ground that the conduct of the postgraduate exams in Maharashtra were at risk.

In the previous hearing, the court had suggested hearing the case in August. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi had asked the court to wait out till September.

In this hearing, advocate Shivaji M. Jadhav drew attention to the fact that the compilation of documents in the case run up to a 1,000 pages.

Concise arguments

Justice Rao said it would be better to start the hearings without delay. He asked the lawyers to be concise and avoid repetitions in their oral arguments.

The appeals have been filed by individuals from all walks of life and NGOs against the High Court decision allowing 12-13% quota to the Maratha community under the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act. They have argued that the decision is seriously erroneous as the State law has breached the 50% cap on reservation fixed by a Constitution Bench in the Indira Sawhney judgment.

In 2019, the apex court had refused to stay the State law but had directed the State of Maharashtra to refrain from implementing the quota with retrospective effect from 2014. This direction had come after senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for one of the petitioners, submitted that the Maharashtra government was using the quota law retrospectively from 2014 to fill up about 70,000 vacant government posts.

Also read: Maratha quota law is a ‘one community’ legislation and against equality, says plea

The appeals had argued that the reservation law was enacted under “political pressure” and in “full defiance” of the rule of law and equality.

“Maharashtra government has made a mockery of the rule of law. It has also used its constitutional powers arbitrarily and purely for political gains,” they said.

“The High Court erred in concluding that the mere fact that other OBCs would have to share their reservation quotas with the Marathas (if the Marathas were simply included in the existing OBC category) constitutes an exceptional circumstance warranting a breach of the 50% ceiling limit set by Indira Sawhney,” one of the appeals said.

They said the SEBC Act was “unconstitutional” for violating the Bombay High Court’s 2015 order without removing its basis, overstepping the constitutional limitations contained in the 102nd Amendment to the Constitution, and for merely succumbing to political pressure, in complete violation of the constitutional principles of rule of law.

According to the 102nd amendment to the Constitution, reservation can be granted only if a particular community is named in the list prepared by the President.

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Printable version | Aug 11, 2020 8:02:34 PM |

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