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Bill proposing 16% Maratha quota passed in Maharashtra assembly

Maharashtra now has 68% caste-based quota, higher than the 50% mandated by the Supreme Court. All parties have extended support to the quota.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2018 23:13 IST
Faisal Malik
Faisal Malik
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Maratha,quota,Maharashtra
Members of the Maratha community celebrate at Azad Maidan in Mumbai.(PTI)

The Maharashtra legislature unanimously approved on Thursday a bill to offer 16% reservation in government jobs and university seats to Marathas, a politically influential community that makes up 30% of the state’s population. The passage of the bill takes caste-based reservation in the state to 68%, breaching a Supreme Court-mandated cap of 50% and making a legal challenge likely.

Both houses of the state legislature passed the Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in education institutions in the state and for appointments in the public services and posts under the state) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018. This will make Maharashtra the state with the second-highest reservations in the country, after Tamil Nadu, which has 69% caste-based quotas.

The decision is likely to be challenged. In June 2014, the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government had given 16% reservation to the Maratha community, a move that was set aside by the Bombay high court in 2014.

The current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government insists that it has followed a legally viable route because its decision is based on the recommendations of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC),which is empowered to decide on the backwardness of a particular community. MSBCC declared the Marathas a socially and educationally backward community in its report.

The political domination of the community, however, is undisputed. Since the formation of Maharashtra in May 1960, 10 of the state’s 17 chief ministers have been Marathas.

“This is an unconstitutional amendment that breaches Article 14 of the Constitution that espouses equality. Reservation was to be made in exceptional circumstances and there are various legal precedents for this. The 1992 judgment that capped the reservation at 50% allowed for a hike only in the case of ‘extraordinary and exceptional’ circumstances,’’ said Ulhas Bapat, a constitutional expert.

The Supreme Court laid down the 50% reservation cap in a landmark judgment in 1992. Two years later, Maharashtra breached the limit by introducing a 2% quota for the Gowari tribe in the face of intense political and social pressure after at least 190 tribespeople were killed in a stampede and protests during a rally in Nagpur for reservation. The quota was never challenged in court.

“Following the commission’s findings, the state government concluded that the [Maratha] community needs special help to advance in the contemporary period so that they can move to a stage of equality with the advanced sections of society,” CM Devendra Fadnavis said.

All political parties had already declared their support for the demand, and no discussion took place on the bill when Fadnavis tabled it in both houses. Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar and Peasants and Workers Party’s Ganpatrao Deshmukh extended their support to the bill.

Marathas are not the only dominant community demanding reservations. Over the past three years, states such as Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan have been rocked by violent protests by communities such as the Patidars, Jats and Gujjars demanding quotas in government jobs and universities. But in each of these cases, the judiciary has struck down or stayed legislation to provide reservation because the quotas exceeded 50%. The only state to have protected its reservation in excess of 50% is Tamil Nadu, which placed a law guaranteeing 69% quota in the ninth schedule of the Constitution, which acts as a shield against judicial review.

First Published: Nov 29, 2018 23:11 IST