10% quota for poorer sections in general category challenged in Supreme Court

Updated on Jan 10, 2019 10:49 PM IST

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the constitution amendment bill passed by Parliament yesterday that gives 10 per cent quota for poorer sections.

Supreme Court.(Sonu Mehta/HT FILE PHOTO)
Supreme Court.(Sonu Mehta/HT FILE PHOTO)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

The legislation to grant 10% reservation in government jobs and higher education to members of economically weaker sections, including upper castes — cleared by both Houses of Parliament this week — was challenged in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed before the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The petition challenging the Constitution (103rd) Amendment Act was filed by a non-profit, Youth for Equality, which has in the past opposed caste-based quota reservations. It contends that the amendment alters the “basic structure” of the Constitution and annuls previous binding judgments of the top court.

Headline: 10% quota for poor: Here’s who will benefit from it

The legislation got Parliament’s approval on Wednesday even as leaders from Opposition parties questioned the Union government’s “haste” in pushing the bill through just months ahead of the 2019 general election. In the Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Kapil Sibal accused the government of bringing the bill at a time when more jobs were being lost than created in the country and warned that it would face major hurdles going forward. Extensively quoting a Supreme Court order by a nine-judge bench in 1992 Sawhney case, the petition contends that economic criterion cannot be the only basis of reservation.

“Such an Amendment is hence, vulnerable and ought to be struck down as it merely negates a binding judgement,” says the PIL.

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The petition also argues that the amendment that gives quota benefits in addition to the existing reservations to members of the Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) communities, breaches a 50% cap fixed by the top court in the M Nagaraj case in 2006.

The government has said that the amendment will withstand legal scrutiny. Speaking in the Lok Sabha during a debate on the bill on Tuesday, finance minister Arun Jaitley said “the apex court had stated that the rule of 50% [cap on reservations] applies only to reservation for backward classes... This bill is for social and economic justice.”

The petition filed on Thursday further says that confining the 10% quota to the “general” category negates the equality code, which is one of the basic tenets of the Constitution.

“By way of the present amendments, the exclusion of OBCs and the SCs/STs from the scope of the economic reservation essentially implies that only those who are poor from the general categories would avail the benefits of the quotas,” reads the petition, arguing that such a reservation “ensures that the elite in the OBCs and SCs/STs capture the reservation benefits repeatedly, while poor sections of these categories remain completely deprived.”

Also Read | 10% quota for economically weaker sections, a muddled thinking, says Amartya Sen

The fourth ground on which the petitioner has assailed the amendment is that it imposes reservation in private unaided educational institutions, which, it says, has been clearly barred by the top court through two judgments.

The amendment, which was passed by Parliament on Wednesday, adds new clauses to Article 15 — which prohibits discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth — and Article 16 — which provides equal opportunity in matters of public employment.

The proposed Article 15(6) enables a special reservation provisions for EWS citizens in educational institutions, including private unaided institutions and Article 16 (6) enables provisions for reservation in jobs.

While the bill saw overwhelming support from all parties, cutting across political lines, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government faced some criticism over the haste with which it brought in the legislation, just months before the Lok Sabha elections.

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    Bhadra is a legal correspondent and reports Supreme Court proceedings, besides writing on legal issues. A law graduate, Bhadra has extensively covered trial of high-profile criminal cases. She has had a short stint as a crime reporter too.

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