Centre, Oppn tussle over Supreme Court’s reservation verdict
The court, in its February 7 order, said that a state government is not bound to provide reservation for appointments and promotions to public posts, and an individual does not have a fundamental right to claim such quotas.Updated: Feb 11, 2020 00:22 IST
The Union government said on Monday that it will take “appropriate steps” on a recent Supreme Court order on reservations, and stressed that it was committed to the welfare of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs), even as a combative Opposition led by the Congress accused the ruling side of “hatching a conspiracy” to end the quota system.
Union social justice and empowerment minister Thawarchand Gehlot said in both Houses of Parliament that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government was not a party to the case that arose from a decision taken by the Uttarakhand government in 2012, when the Congress ruled the state.
The court, in its February 7 order, said that a state government is not bound to provide reservation for appointments and promotions to public posts, and an individual does not have a fundamental right to claim such quotas.
“Our government is dedicated and committed for the welfare of SCs [Scheduled Castes], STs [Scheduled Tribes] and other backward castes,” Gehlot said, but his statement failed to douse the raging political row and triggered a fresh one instead.
Soon after, the Congress accused Gehlot of misleading the House and said it will move a privilege motion against him. The quota judgment has come on a special leave petition that the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand government filed in the Supreme Court in November 2019, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said at a press conference at Parliament complex.
The case is related to the Uttarakhand government’s 2012 decision to fill up all posts in public services in the state without providing any reservations to SC/STs.
The Uttarakhand high court struck down the decision in April 2019. Later in November, it directed the state to collect data on the representation of SC/STs in government jobs and then take a considered decision.
Subsequently, the state filed an appeal against this order in the Supreme Court, saying that there is no fundamental right to claim reservation in appointments or promotions to public posts.
The top court’s February 7 verdict said that courts could not direct state government to grant reservation, which is an enabling provision; and it is for the government to decide whether reservations are required in appointments and promotions.
Reservation is a sensitive issue in India where caste-based politics and leaders have a significant clout. SCs and STs, who account for a sizeable chunk of voters, are India’s most marginalised communities.
A dominant view is that reservation is a means to correct historical wrongs committed against them. The implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations in the early 1990s — a watershed in Indian politics — saw the extension of reservations in government positions to the OBCs, but also triggered widespread protests by a section of upper caste groups against quotas. A fine balance on the subject has been high on the agenda for Indian policymakers.
In Parliament, Gehlot said that the Centre was not asked to file an affidavit in the matter. And when he mentioned the Supreme Court ruling was on an order that was issued when the Congress was in power in Uttarakhand, members of the opposition party shouted “shame shame” and walked out of the House.
“This is my charge that the Congress is politicising the sensitive issue,” defence minister Rajnath Singh said in the Lok Sabha before Gehlot’s reply.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi urged Speaker Om Birla to expunge remarks made by opposition members against the government. Birla said he will look into the issue.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Trinamool Congress’s Kalyan Banerjee, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader A Raja and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Ritesh Pandey targeted the government in the Lok Sabha.
“I urge the central government that they should file a review petition on this and also put the subject in the Ninth Schedule,” Raja said. Communist Party of India (Marxist) member AM Ariff seconded the demand for a review.
A similar demand for a review petition rang out from the Rajya Sabha. And later, not satisfied with Gehlot’s response, a section of the Opposition staged a walkout.
“There is no need to worry. The [Narendra] Modi government will protect and will do whatever best possible to protect the interest of SCs and STs,” Lok Janshakti Party leader and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said.
Paswan, an ally of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, too, said the reservation issue should be brought under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.
A law under the Ninth Schedule is supposed to be immune from judicial review, and cannot be challenged in courts, though this position has been disputed after a 2007 Supreme Court judgment.
In the evening, it was decided at a meeting convened by Paswan that parliamentarians belonging to SC/ST communities will meet PM Modi with the demand to put matters related to reservations in the Ninth Schedule. Leaders cutting across party lines attended the meeting.
Notwithstanding the government’s efforts to assuage concerns, the Congress launched a three-pronged attack on the ruling dispensation both inside and outside Parliament.
First, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of conspiring to end reservation. “We won’t allow them to abolish reservation... it’s an attack on Constitution,” Gandhi said.
Second, after Gehlot’s reply, Congress general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal said that his party will file a privilege motion against him for what it described as misleading the House.
And third, the party also said that it will stage protests and agitations at the district level on the issue in the coming weeks to “expose” the government’s “conspiracy to end reservation”.