The Supreme Court's refusal to vacate the stay on caste-based admissions into India's most elite educational institutions on Wednesday once again pitted the judiciary against the legislature.
Most leaders were of the view that the Supreme Court was overstepping its line in refusing to revoke the freeze on the law for 27 per cent reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in institutes of higher learning.
"Parliament has to intervene," said D Raja, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader and MP. "The move (to reserve seats for OBCs) was a policy decision taken by the government and approved by Parliament. It is not the domain of the judiciary."
Refusing to vacate the stay issued in March till August, the apex court said constitutional validity of the quota law should be decided first. It pointed out that adequate infrastructure was not in place in institutions like the IITs and IIMs - known as centres of excellence - for accommodating quotas.
The move has come as a major setback for the Congress-led government, which was trying for the second time to vacate the stay on quota implementations for the current academic year. The government has expressed its willingness to keep the "creamy layer" out of the 27 per cent quota for OBCs in an attempt to get a nod for its early implementation.
"It is not only unfortunate and deplorable but also a clear stepping into the jurisdiction of the legislature," said Congress MP Madhu Gowd Yaskhi.
He said the constitution and previous judgements of the apex court clearly state that no court had the power to review laws passed by parliament.
"There is a thin line between the judiciary and the executive and to have a healthy democracy, one should not step into the domain of another," he said.
The Congress MP from Nizamabad said the judiciary also has a responsibility to protect the weaker sections. "It should not work against it on technical grounds. So far the courts have come into the rescue of the weaker sections through its various judgements. The apex court's move is highly deplorable."
Devendra Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) said the Supreme Court's verdict would give a new dimension to existing laws.
"When the court viewed that the quota law does not have any constitutional validity, it ignored the article 15 (4) that gives powers to the government to take steps to uplift the weaker section," Yadav told IANS over the phone from flood-hit Bihar.
Yadav as well as the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)'s Mohammed Salim said the government should take immediate steps to explore ways to overcome the crisis.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was more cautious and laid the blame for the court ruling at the government's door.
"It is because of the government's casual approach. We feel the government was not serious and honest enough to convince the court about the need of reservation in these educational institutions," said BJP leader Mukthar Abbas Naqvi.
The Supreme Court had stayed the implementation of the law, saying that there were no adequate data about the OBC population available with the government.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's decision to bring the legislation had created major controversy with medical students vehemently opposing the bill.
Nationwide protests that lasted for more than two weeks forced the government to work out a compromise under which seats in the "general category" (where anyone could apply) would remain unaffected while the quotas would be implemented in a staggered manner.
The Oversight Committee headed by senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily had estimated that the cost of implementation of affirmative action would be over Rs 90 billion.