Madras high court issues notice to Centre on 10% quota for economically backward classes

Updated on Jan 21, 2019 06:20 PM IST

The DMK had moved the high court even as three BJP-ruled states decided to implement the 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections.

A file photo of Madras high court sought the Centre’s reply on the latest reservations before February 18.(PTI)
A file photo of Madras high court sought the Centre’s reply on the latest reservations before February 18.(PTI)
Hindustan Times, Chennai | ByMC Rajan

The Madras High Court today issued notice to the Centre to reply before February 18 on a petition by the DMK challenging 10 per cent reservation in employment and education to the economically weaker sections in general category.

The petition was filed by RS Bharathi, Rajya Sabha MP and the DMK’s Organising Secretary. The DMK had voted against the legislation in the Rajya Sabha but, it was passed by both the Houses of Parliament. Its main political rival, the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu had also opposed it, but walked out without voting.

After a preliminary hearing, a Division bench of Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad, directed the Centre and the State Government to file their replies in writing before the next hearing.

The Bench also sought clarification about “other communities” mentioned in the Constitution along with Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes. “Who could be the persons falling under the Other Communities? Who are they” the Judges asked.

“They are communities which do not figure in the reservation radar,” was the response of Additional Solicitor General (ASG) G Rajagopalan.

But, the Bench did not seem satisfied and Justice Prasad asked whether there was any specific bar in the Constitution to extend quota purely on economic basis. The Bench then, directed the ASG to ensure that the Centre puts up all its objections in writing before the next hearing.

The hearing also witnessed heated exchanges between Rajagopalan, and senior counsel P Wilson, appearing for the DMK.

The ASG argued that “the petitioner, having failed in one constitutional forum to stall the legislation, was using another constitutional forum with the same intent.” He was referring to the DMK voting against the constitutional amendment in the Rajya Sabha and then approaching the High Court.

Without mentioning the DMK’s anti-Brahmin roots, the Centre’s counsel further submitted that the DMK was ideologically opposed to certain communities and as such the party was pushing its own agenda.

This drew a sharp response from Wilson, himself a former ASG, that it was the Centre which was opposing the case politically. Maintaining that reservation is not a poverty alleviation programme but rather an affirmative action to provide representation in state services and uplift communities which faced untouchability and discrimination for three millennia, he cited the Mandal Commission judgement and various other rulings of the Supreme Court.

“The exception to the equality clause, therefore, is available only to those communities which were ostracised for centuries in matters of education and employment. However, economic criterion is being used to filter the creamy layer among the Backward Classes. But, providing reservation solely on economic criteria offends the basic structure of the constitution,” he contended.

In his petition, Bharathi submitted that caste based division and discrimination on the basis of Jati and Varna had scriptural basis including the Vedas. The effect of this, according to his plea was not just economic but, “social and psychological as well” with caste determining the social life and value of a human being.

He also said that the legislation was foisted on the Lok Sabha and rushed through with such haste even without providing copies to the members well in advance.

On January 12, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the bill. A day later Gujarat became the first in the country to announce implementation of the 10% quota. Two other BJP-ruled states, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh followed Gujarat within a few days.

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