Government says not possible before it is tabled
IN AN order that could trigger another face-off between the judiciary and Parliament, the Supreme Court on Monday directed the government to place before it the report of a Parliamentary Standing Committee that is examining the bill providing for OBC quota in higher-education institutions.
A bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and Lokeshwar Singh Panta gave this directive while hearing a public interest petition challenging the government's decision to provide 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in central universities, IITs and IIMs. "We direct that a copy of the Standing Committee report be placed before this court in a sealed cover," the bench said.
Earlier, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian had said the bill was introduced in Parliament in the last session and that the Standing Committee was examining it. Without issuing a restraint order, the court indicated it would not like the government to take a final decision before it had examined the issue. The case will be heard again on December 4.
The government was quick to hit back at the SC directive. Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.R. Dasmunsi referred to the Constitution which spelt out a clear-cut role for each of the pillars. "In our Constitution, there are different doors for the Courts, the Legislature and the Executive," he said. "As the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, it is my duty to ensure that the Standing Committee report is submitted to Parliament first." The government would take the Law Ministry's opinion before taking the next step.
CPI secretary D. Raja said, "Standing Committees are answerable only to Parliament." He emphasised that Parliament was well within its rights to enact laws.
Former law minister and senior Supreme Court advocate Shanti Bhushan said a Standing Committee report is part of the proceedings of the House. "The courts cannot decide as to what legislation Parliament should or should not enact," he added. "Any such attempt would be a clear violation of Article 122 that bars courts from inquiring into the proceedings of Parliament."
"This may even amount to breach of privilege of the House for which even the judges could be made answerable," he said.
One the points raised in the PIL petition related to the data on which the government relied for fixing 27 per cent quota. The court sought to know if SCs, BCs and OBCs were exchangeable expressions, and why the government wanted to go ahead with the policy even before it had collected proper data. "As of today you (government) have no complete data (on reservation). You announce the policy without having full data. You play the game first and then frame the rules," the bench said.
Sources in the HRD Ministry said the data used to fix the quota percentage was based on a 1986 study of the population of SCs, STs and OBCs. The figures have not been updated thereafter.
The court also wanted to know why the government's affidavit was silent on the question of the "creamy layer" among the OBCs that should be excluded from the purview of reservation in accordance with the Supreme Court's ruling in the Mandal case. Subramanian said OBC quota would not be enforced unless a proper law is in place. "It is a matter in the domain of Parliament."