The central government asserted before the Supreme Court on Wednesday that there cannot be any time limit on reservation. "No time limit can be fixed for the measures of social engineering," it stated in defence of a law granting 27 per cent reservation for other backward classes in centrally-run higher educational institutions.
The government made the assertion in a bulky written argument submitted to a five-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, which is examining the constitutional validity of the law hiking caste-based reservations by 27 per cent.
The bench began hearing the government's defence of its quota-in-education law on Tuesday and continued the hearing on Wednesday.
The government's assertion comes despite the fact that the Constitution makers originally envisaged 10 years as the time limit for any affirmative action by the government.
"It is submitted that conceptually there cannot be any time limit imposed for the policy of reservation in admission (to educational institutions) or in employment," Solicitor General GE Vahanvati told the bench in his 94-page written submission.
Making a strong pitch for 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) students, Vahanvati said: "It cannot be forgotten that reservations in central government educational institutions are sought to be introduced for the first time after 57 years of the country becoming a republic."
"It is the begging of a long overdue process of social engineering. A significant start has been made. It is respectfully submitted that this is not the time to set the time limit," the government's top law officer told the bench. The court has often scoffed at the government's reservation policy and asked it for how long it intends to continue the reservation policy.
"The policy of reservation flows from the mandate of equality and till the time the constitutional objectivity of real equality is achieved, there is a constitutional mandate on the state to have special provisions for the upliftment of backward classes," Vahanvati told the court.
"In matters of this kind, namely removal of backwardness, removal of untouchability and achieving a casteless society, there can be no time limits. No time limits can be fixed for the measures of social engineering," he said.
The government sought perpetuation of its reservation policy despite the fact that various constitutional provisions, which give reserved seats in Parliament and legislature for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes or for their employment in government jobs, seek revision of reservation policy every decade.
Even the apex court's 1993 ruling in the Indira Sawhney case, which upheld the government's decision to implement 27 per cent reservation in jobs for backward caste candidates, said that the reservation policy in state jobs ought to be reviewed after 10 years.