CHANDIGARH: The Punjab and Haryana high court on Thursday put on hold the Manohar Lal Khattar government’s move to give 10% reservation to Jats and five other communities in government jobs and education.
The decision raised the spectre of a second wave of unrest as Jat groups reacted angrily, saying they were “betrayed by the government”. Members of influential khaps congregated in Bohar village of Rohtak soon after the judgment. A meeting was called on May 29 to discuss their next move.
“We didn’ t fight such along battle to see this day. The government has to fight further and prove its support of our community,” said Mahender Singh Nandal, a khap head.
The court’s ruling was not surprising as experts had warned of legal trouble after the state assembly unanimously passed the Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admissions in Educational Institutions) Act, 2016, on March 29.
The BJP government’s move was seen as an attempt to appease the dominant Jat community that ran an aggressive pro-reservation stir in February. The demonstrations turned violent; many people were killed.
The court gave the government time till July 21 to file its reply.
Chief minister Khattar said his government will not wait till the assigned time but present its case at the earliest in the high court to get the stay revoked. “The BJP government is committed to the welfare of all sections of society.”
But Jat groups felt cheated as the government had relied on a report trashed by the Supreme Court to carve out a new backward-class category to extend reservation benefits to Jats, Jat Sikhs, Mulla Jats, Bishnois, Rors, and Tyagis.
The petitioner, Bhiwani resident Murari Lal Gupta, quoted the top court to challenge the government’s legislation. As the Supreme Court had ruled that Jats could not be treated as backward, the assembly had no right to pass the law, his lawyer Mukesh Kumar Verma said.
The government’s decision amounted to revising a judicial order, which could not be done by the legislature. Only judiciary was allowed to revisit its decisions.
The leader of the All India Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti, a group spearheading the reservation stir, said the focus now will be to fight the case legally. “If the state government had included our reservation in the 9th schedule (of the Constitution) when the Lok Sabha session was on, we wouldn’t have faced this disappointment,” pro-quota leader Hawa Singh Sangwan said.
But a legal fight could be a long haul. The act passed by the assembly raised the state’s quota percentage to 67%, a legally indefensible position in view of a 1992 Supreme Court judgment that fixed a cap of 50%.
Backward classes in Haryana already enjoy 27% reservation, followed by scheduled castes’ 20%, and 10% for economically backward people. (With inputs from HTC in Rohtak)