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‘Maratha quota may not stand legal scrutiny’

Officials, Maratha protestors, experts say reservation can be given within OBC quota itself, but that will come at the cost of polarisation

mumbai Updated: Oct 07, 2016 23:49 IST
Surendra Gangan
The Maratha community held a Maratha Kranti Morcha demanding reservation and justice for Kopardi rape victim in Satara on Monday.
The Maratha community held a Maratha Kranti Morcha demanding reservation and justice for Kopardi rape victim in Satara on Monday.(HT File Photo)

Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has drummed up a case in favour of 16% special reservation for the protesting Maratha community, legal experts and officials say the state’s argument could fall through.

On the back of several high court and Supreme Court orders, they say that the government will have no option but to offer Marathas reservation within the Other Backward Class (OBC) quota. A few leading organisers of the protests say that they are open to being categorised under this quota.

Politically, this could prove to be problematic for the government as it will lead to a Marathas vs OBCs tussle in the state.

A month and a half after the Marathas conducted silent protest rallies, the state hired one of the best legal brains in the country, Harish Salve, to represent it in the high court. It is banking on the centre to release caste-based 2011 census data on the Maratha community to help strengthen its argument that Marathas are economically backward. To prove that the community comprises small and marginal farmers and mathadis (head loaders), the government has dug up around 1,200 documents — including those from the Shivaji era that showcase the community as comprising the peasant class — with the help of the Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute.

Officials admit that this may not cut ice in the courts.

The previous Congress-NCP government issued an ordinance in 2014, offering 16% reservation to the Marathas and 5% to the Muslims. However,the Bombay high court stayed it, pointing at the Supreme Court norm, which capped reservation at 50%. It added that the data submitted by minister Narayan Rane’s committee was faulty. It ruled that the government did not follow the provisions of the State Backward Class Commission Act 2005.

Two of the state Backward Class Commissions — Bhatia and Bapat — had not endorsed the government’s stand on the reservation, ruling that the community was neither economically nor socially backward. Despite this, the state formed a committee in 2014, under then revenue minister Narayan Rane to submit a case to grant reservation to Marathas

“Almost all the state backward committees and commissions including recent Bapat and Bhatia commissions have denied endorsing the government. Even if the government succeeds in proving the backwardness of the community, it should think of including it in OBCs and extend the existing percentage by four to five per cent more as the court allows it in extraordinary circumstances. However, the inclusion of Marathas in the OBC quota will not be easy,” said a minister on the condition of anonymity.

Officials said reservation crossing the cap 50% on the lines of the one in Tamil Nadu was not possible in Maharashtra. “The Tamil Nadu reservation has been in place for about 50 years and was safeguarded legally by including the changes in the ninth schedule of the Constitution,” the official said.

He added that even if the government proves the community’s eligibility, the second challenge will be to find a category for this reservation.

Maratha protest leaders say the stance adopted by political parties claiming to offer reservation without disturbing the existing OBC quota, is insincere.

“This 16% reservation over and above the existing quota is impossible. Our contention is that the reservation given to the OBCs is disproportionate to their percentage and does not follow the provisions of the SBCC Act, under the backwardness of communities enjoying reservation should be revised regularly. OBCs, VJNTs and special backward classes have a 32% reservation, whereas Marathas who are 22-25% (substracting Kunbi Marathas) have been begging for reservation since 1993,” said Balasaheb Patil Sarate, a Maratha leader and head of Chhatrapati Shivaji Prabodhini.

When leaders such as Sarate start the second phase of their protests demanding reservation within the OBCs, the political situation is likely to turn ugly.

For now, OBC leaders choose to remain silent. “We will not comment. I think the Sudarsana Nachiappan committee report submitted to the centre in 2006 is the only solution to the deadlock. It gives reservation to all communities based on their population as per the caste-based census. The report recommends that the cap 50% reservation be crossed,” said Sachin Rajurkar, convenor, National OBC Fedration.