By Sabrina Bath-
Under the Constitution of India, the Preamble proclaims that all citizens will be guaranteed social, economic and political justice. As a result, the constitution not only prohibits discrimination against any individual based on caste, religion, sex, ethnicity or other factors, but it also seeks to redress the long-standing exploitation and prejudice of the lower classes. It also provides for the protection of rights in favour of the weaker segments of society, such as the reservation of seats for employment in government jobs, in the legislatures and various educational institutions, in addition to the measures for equality.
In the Indian context, the caste structure and the provisions concerning reservations are inextricably linked. The caste system in India is a hierarchical structure based on caste. To date, the lower castes are being exploited by the upper castes, and they suffer from socio-economic disadvantages. Reservations are intended to bring the weaker groups of society, such as Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, up to par with the rest of the society. Although it seems to violate the equality principle, it is justified by the requirement of a social welfare state.
Constitutional Provisions for Reservation
Articles 16, 335, 338, 340, 341, and 342 of the Constitution deal with protection, reservation, and safeguarding the interests of the people belonging to the SCs/STs and other backward classes in public employment.
Representing the backward communities both in Indian politics and the mainstream would have been detrimental to society. Thus provisions were made under Article 15 (Prohibiting discrimination based on sex, caste, race or place of birth) and Article 16 (equal opportunity for public employment) of the Constitution allowing reservation policies centred around them. The state may hold any appointment or office for the benefit of any individual belonging to the backward class if they are not appropriately represented in the state’s services in accordance with Article 16(4). However, Article 335 states that their demand for appointment will be considered if it is compatible with upholding administrative efficiency. The President will appoint a Special Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, according to Article 338. It will investigate and report to the President on all matters relevant to preserving the interests of SCs and STs. As a result, it will oversee the reservation policy’s execution and assist in eliminating roadblocks to its implementation.
Verdict on Maratha Reservation
2017- Reservation for the Marathas was recommended by an eleven-member commission led by retired Justice N G Gaikwad under the Socially and Educationally Backward Class category (SEBC).
2018- A bill granting the Maratha community the Maharashtra Assembly passed a 16 per cent reservation. While maintaining the reservation, the Bombay High Court stated that instead of 16 per cent, it should be decreased to 12 per cent in education and 13 per cent in employment.
2020- The Apex Court halted the law's implementation, and the case was referred to the Chief Justice of India.
The Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act established a 16 per cent reservation in educational institutions and government employment for the Maratha population. The Act was contested before the Bombay High Court by petitioners as a violation of the Indian Constitution since it planned to increase Maharashtra’s quota from 52 per cent to 68 per cent. It was argued that this went against the Apex Court’s decision in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India. It was also claimed that, as a result of the Constitution 102nd Amendment Act, which came into force in August 2018, the State legislature no longer has the authority to identify a group as educationally or socially backward.
The Maharashtra law offering reservation to the Maratha community for government posts and admissions was repealed by a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Apex Court. On the matter, the court posed six legal questions; it unanimously agreed on three of them. The Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, grants reservation to the community of Marathas in public jobs and education, which was struck down by the Apex Court (Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister). The Court found that the 2018 Act, as modified in 2019, offering reservation to the community of the Marathas, did not establish any exceptional circumstances justifying exceeding the ceiling restriction of 50 per cent reservation.
According to the Court, the Act of 2018 contradicts the principles of equality and surpassing the 50 per cent ceiling limit breaches Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution. The 2018 Act is unconstitutional. The Court also decided that the decision in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India does not require to be referred to a bigger bench. Also, the 50 per cent reservation ceiling set in Indra Sawhney is solid law. It was further clarified that the argument for remanding the Indra Sawhney decision to a larger bench is without merit. This Court has repeatedly upheld the abovementioned judgment, which has been accepted by at least four of the Court’s Constitutional Benches. Neither the Gaikwad Commission report nor the Bombay High Court’s verdict had established an unusual scenario in the instance of the Marathas, allowing them to exceed the 50 per cent limit. It was also emphasised that the commission’s conclusions are unsustainable. There is no exceptional circumstance that warrants exceeding the ceiling restriction of 50% to allocate additional reservation to Marathas.
The verdicts on the points above were unanimous. But the Bench disagreed on how to read Article 342A of the Constitution, which the 102nd Constitutional Amendment added. According to Article 342A, the President, in collaboration with the State’s Governor, must identify groups in each state as educationally and socially and backwards. The Court had to decide if the article mentioned above took away the states’ ability to identify any community as SEBC. According to Justices Nazeer and Bhushan, the parliament did not, through this article, attempt to take away the jurisdiction of states to identify backward classes. They upheld the 102nd Amendment. Justices Gupta, Bhat and Rao, on the other hand, found that under Article 342A, only the President has the authority to recognize SEBC and add it to the list. States can only suggest that SEBC be included in that list. They did, however, uphold the 102nd Amendment.
To conclude, Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 21 (right to self-determination) are violated by a special reservation for the Maratha community, which also goes against the due process of law. Exceeding the 50% reservation ceiling will eventually lead to a proper ‘caste-based society. The reasons used to justify and criticize the reservation have relevance. There is no immediate alternative to either continuing or ending the reservation policy. The policy should be kept, according to the Apex Court. The choice to deny the ‘creamy layer’ the advantage of the reservation is a reasonable one. Otherwise, a segment of the more inferior class will benefit from reservations while others would continue to suffer. The time has arrived for policymakers to reconsider it.
 The Constitution of India, 1950.  INDIA CONST. art 16.  INDIA CONST. art 335.  INDIA CONST. art 338.  INDIA CONST. art 340.  INDIA CONST. art 341.  INDIA CONST. art 342.  INDIA CONST. art 15.  Ibid, 2.  INDIA CONST. art 16(4).  Ibid, 3.  INDIA CONST. art 338. Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister, (2021) SCC OnLine SC 362.  The Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 (accessed at https://lj.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/Acts/H%201847%20(SEBC%20Act)%20(1-9).pdf on June 9, 2021).  Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, (1992) Suppl 3, SCC 217.  The Constitution (One Hundred And Second Amendment) Act, 2018 2018 (accessed at https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/THE-CONSTITUTION-%28ONE-HUNDRED-AND-SECOND-AMENDMENT%29-ACT-2018.pdf on June 9, 2021).  Ibid, 14.  Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister, (2021) SCC OnLine SC 362.  INDIA CONST. art 14.  Ibid, 8.  Ibid, 15.  INDIA CONST. art 342A  Ibid, 22.  Ibid, 22.  Ibid, 19.  INDIA CONST. art 21.
Author- Sabrina Bath
Symbiosis Law School, Pune