Having said that reservation cannot continue forever, the Supreme Court on Thursday observed that equality could never be achieved by institutionalising the caste system.
A Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan made the observation during arguments on petitions challenging the validity of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admissions), Act, 2006 providing for 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in elite central institutions, including IITs and IIMs.
Attacking the government for making caste the sole criterion for identification of the beneficiaries of reservation under populist pressure, senior counsel Harish Salve said on behalf of anti-quota petitioners that "somebody has to take a non-politicised view…If nobody else does it not then it is for the constitutional authorities (courts) to do that."
He said, "The destination is to break the caste and not to create a stronger mould of caste…and the Constitution is a tool to achieve social harmony and not a tool to create social disharmony."
As Salve said, "Don't institutionise the caste system," the bench completed the sentence by adding "because then the goal (of equality) can never be achieved."
The court sought to know if the Government could spell out the norms to justify its reservation policy. "Certain norms have to be laid down as a policy," the bench observed reacting to Salve submissions that there has to be certain parameters for making a mandatory quota law. It wanted the government to explain the factual situation for continuing with the reservation policy.
"The identification of OBC must be based on sociological and statistical data. It cannot be on personal expression, data or hunches," he said adding, "Political compulsions are driving the reservation policy".
To senior advocate K Parasaran’s argument on behalf of Tamil Nadu Government that the upper castes dominated for centuries and now they should suffer, the bench posed a counter-question - suppose only 10 per cent people were the oppressor then why the 90 per cent people should suffer now?
The court had on Tuesday observed: "It (reservation) will have to stop some day…after some years or decades...It must come to an end one day…If it is perpetual the entire object is defeated.
"It is an enabling provision...it has to be time bound...Conceptually it has to be terminated at some point in time," the bench said and sought to know if reservation could be withdrawn once it had achieved its purpose after a period of time.