State may bring back 5% Muslim quota in education

Published on Feb 28, 2020 11:59 PM IST
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ByEeshanpriya MS, Mumbai

The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government could bring back 5% reservation for Muslims in the state’s educational institutions.

“Five per cent reservation for Muslims in educational institutions can be implemented. A law to the effect will be brought as soon as possible,”said Nawab Mallik, Maharashtra’s minorities development minister, on Friday in response to a question by Congress’s Sharad Ranpise in the legislative Council. Ranpise asked for the government’s stand on a 2014 decision of the then Congress-led government.

The government in June 2014 announced 16% reservation for Marathas and 5% for Muslims in education and government jobs. Later, the Bombay high court (HC) stayed the government decision, but said that Muslims could be given reservation in education. The BJP-led government that came to power the same year chose not to continue with the reservation after the ordinance lapsed in December 2014, saying it was not in favour of quota on the basis of religion.

Malik, who is from the NCP, also told the House that coalition partner Shiv Sena was on the same page on the issue.

However, Sena leader and urban development minister Eknath Shinde later said a decision on reservation was yet to be taken. “The decision on reservation will be taken by the leaders of the three ruling parties [Sena, Congress and NCP] together, after due deliberation. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray will take an appropriate decision at the right time,” he said.

The state government already has 74% reservation for various sections in education and 75% in government jobs. It includes 12% for Maratha community as Educationally and Socially Backward Class (ESBC) in education and 13% in jobs as well as 10% quota for the economically weaker section, introduced by the Centre last year. If the state government provides reservation for Muslims in education, the quota will be 79% in Maharashtra.

Constitutional experts have expressed doubt over the sustainability of the legislation when it is introduced in Maharashtra, especially since “similar reservations have been struck down by the courts in the country for various reasons earlier”.

Shreehari Aney, former advocate-general, cited the Champakam Dorairajan verus state of Madras case of the 1960s, where a reservation for Brahmins by the then Madras was struck down by the court. He said, “It is not that it cannot be done. It can be done. But this is a very complicated issue. Religious reservation is quite different from backwardness reservation. So, in order to give it to a particular religion, there would be need to show in terms of Article 15 of the constitution that the religion deserves protection in matters of education.”

Aney explained that in such a case, the state will have to explain the need on basis of fool-proof data. Aney said, “I don’t know if Mr Malik has access to this kind of data. If he does not have it, then this reservation can be challenged successfully.”

Regarding the total reservation in Maharashtra touching 79%, Aney said, “This will definitely be another basis for challenging the law in court.” He added, “There are two types of reservations, a vertical reservation is given across classes and castes, and adds to the overall reservation percentage in the state. However, a horizontal reservation comes within another reservation’s percentage. This is likely to be a vertical reservation and may not stand when legally challenged.”

Another legal expert, advocate Uday Warunjikar, said the announcement was made without doing proper homework. He said, “In India there are different such examples, where the state tried to introduce special reservation for Muslims. Most of these examples have landed into legal trouble, including in Andra Pradesh, where 5% was introduced, but struck down by the court.”

“The government needs proper data to prove a certain religious community is in dire need of such a reservation. Without the data, it will be very difficult to sustain the legislation.”

On Friday, former chief minister and leader of Opposition in the legislative Assembly Devendra Fadnavis reiterated his party’s stance, while opposing Malik’s announcement.

“Dr BR Ambedkar’s constitution does not approve the reservation on the basis of religion. The reservation to Muslims will affect the reservation granted to OBC and Maratha communities in the state,” he said. Fadnavis said that people of the state should know why the Sena has compromised on its ideology and being dragged with the other two ruling parties.

Earlier in the council, Malik was urged in the council to bring a bill to the effect and pass it before June 2020, as school admissions take place around this time. Husnabanu Khalife, Congress MLC, said, “If the law is in place before June, Muslims will benefit from it during the school admissions of their children this year itself.”

Ranpise said, “I am already making this demand. I urge the state to bring an ordinance to the effect to speed the process.” Malik, in turn, clarified, “An ordinance cannot be introduced when the legislature is in session. The government will bring a bill to the effect as soon as possible.”

“We will inspect if it is possible to give a reservation based on religion and then only will a decision be taken,” Malik said in response to BJP MLC Vijay Girkar’s remarks that reservations cannot be given on the basis of religion as per the Constitution.

Malik also defended the MVA and said, “Everyone is looking at Sena in the house. Let me assure you, we have Sena’s support. As it’s election promises to the people of Maharashtra hold, Sena has assured that all social problems faced by backward classes, castes, and communities will be resolved and these people will be given justice. When BJP was in alliance with Sena and was opposing this, Sena was upholding its value.”

Analysts have called the announcement a political move.

Analyst Hemant Desai said, “NCP wants to reach out to Muslim voters now as Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s (VBA) Prakash Ambedkar took their votes and AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslameen) is trying to expand in Maharashtra. Congress’s position in terms of support base is bad at present. NCP chief Sharad Pawar knows this. Sena, on the other hand, is doing a balancing act and softening its stance on many issues.”

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