Wednesday, April 24

Explained: Maratha Quota Bill Cleared But Will It Pass The Legal Test?

Written by Timeline News Desk

Manoj Jarange, the activist and prominent figure spearheading the Maratha quota agitation, remains resolute in his hunger strike despite the passage of the Maratha Reservation Bill in the assembly. This bill, addressing the long-standing demand for reservation within the Maratha community, has been a subject of intense negotiation between community leaders and the state government.

The Maratha Reservation Bill provides for a 10 percent reservation in education and government jobs. Jarange emphasises that the crucial factor is not merely the percentage of reservation offered by the government, but rather its integration within the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category to avoid legal complications. He highlights the potential legal challenges posed by a separate reservation exceeding the 50 percent cap, citing previous instances where similar attempts were invalidated by the courts.

“We have been demanding that we should be given a quota in the OBC category. But the government has given us separate reservation which crosses the 50 per cent ceiling. This will not stand the legal scrutiny,” he said.

“We are Kunbis. We are already recognised under the OBC category. Why should we demand separate reservation? If one brother is entitled to reservation, shouldn’t others be as well? It’s a matter of our rightful inclusion,” Jarange added.

This is the third instance in a decade where the Maharashtra government has attempted to address the Maratha community’s reservation demands. Previous attempts were thwarted by legal constraints, notably the 50 percent quota ceiling imposed by the courts.

Ahead of the 2014 elections, the then Congress government under Prithviraj Chavan issued an ordinance implementing a 16 per cent reservation for Marathas. The Bombay High Court struck it down, citing the 50 per cent limit imposed by the Supreme Court.

In 2018, the Devendra Fadnavis government also announced a 16 per cent reservation for Marathas, which was struck down by the top court in 2021.

The Maharashtra State Socially and Educationally Backward Bill 2024 is set for a comprehensive review after a decade of implementation. Its formulation is based on extensive research conducted by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission, which surveyed nearly 2.5 crore families to assess the socio-economic and educational challenges faced by the Maratha community.

According to the survey, the Maratha community constitutes a significant 28 per cent of Maharashtra’s population. It also reveals that 21.22 per cent of Maratha families are below the poverty line, exceeding the state’s average of 17.4 per cent. Additionally, 84 per cent of Maratha families do not fall under the ‘progressed’ category, making them eligible for reservation as outlined in the bill.

The survey also indicates that 94 per cent of farmer suicides in Maharashtra involve Maratha families.

The legislation’s primary objective is to alleviate the economic hardships experienced by the Maratha community, with statistics indicating significant poverty rates and limited educational progress among Maratha families.

The urgency for this legislation was underscored by the sustained hunger strike of Manoj Jarange, drawing attention to the pressing need for legislative action.

While previous attempts at reservation for the Maratha community have faced legal hurdles, the persistent advocacy of community leaders and the demographic significance of the Maratha population continue to propel this issue to the forefront of state politics.

Sharad Pawar, founder of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), has expressed reservations about the latest Maratha quota bill, highlighting its similarities to previous legislation that failed legal scrutiny. He anticipates that the Supreme Court will ultimately determine the fate of this new bill.

However, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that the Supreme Court had “pointed out some errors” in the bill that his government introduced in 2018. “Our government thus appointed a committee of legal experts and has rectified all the errors to present a new bill,” he said.

The mandate for reservation in legislatures, higher education, and public employment for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes has been capped at 50% by a Supreme Court ruling in 1992. Despite this, there have been instances where states, the Union government, and even the Supreme Court itself have exceeded this threshold on occasion.

The Supreme Court acknowledged the possibility of deviating from the 50% reservation rule in “certain extraordinary situations,” but emphasised the need for extreme caution and a compelling justification for doing so.

Several states have surpassed the 50% reservation limit, with Tamil Nadu being the most prominent example, maintaining a reservation quota of 69% since 1990. In response to the 1992 Supreme Court judgment, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly enacted legislation in 1993 to safeguard its 69% quota from potential interference. This legislation received presidential assent after successful negotiations between the Tamil Nadu government and the Union government. The Tamil Nadu government persuaded the Union government to propose a Constitutional amendment, placing the legislation in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, thereby shielding it from judicial review.

However, in 2007, the Supreme Court asserted its authority to scrutinise any legislation added to the Ninth Schedule, albeit limited to assessing its compatibility with the basic structure of the Constitution.

A legal challenge to Tamil Nadu’s reservation policy has been pending in the Supreme Court since 2012.