The Centre on Tuesday backed a railway policy that allows reservation for backward castes while awarding catering contracts.
In response to a petition challenging the 2005 policy, the Centre told the Supreme Court that the special provisions under Article 15 of the Constitution — prohibiting discrimination on grounds of race, religion, caste or gender — had to be inter-preted widely and the uplift of the weaker sections could not be confined to education and jobs only.
In other words, the Centre defended quotas in business contracts, not just in jobs and in educational institutions. The Railways Catering Contractors’ Association had opposed the policy earlier.
After losing its case in Bombay High Court, the catering contractors’ association had moved the Supreme Court, challenging the 49.9 per cent quota for SCs, STs and OBCs in lower-segment railway stations and 25 per cent in high-end railway stations while awarding the contracts.
Its argument was that the Constitution does not allow quotas while awarding business contracts.
But the Centre said on Tuesday that policy formulation was the “exclusive domain” of the state and that the catering policy balances the “social objective of benefiting a larger number of the socially disadvantaged sections while creating jobs for others”.
Quoting Article 46, the Centre said, it allowed the state to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections, particularly the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
Further, the injunction against religious discrimination in Article 15 had been enacted to ensure that religious minorities were not subjected to hostile treatment, the Centre said.