A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi will hear on Friday a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the recently enacted law to provide 10 per cent reservation in government jobs and higher education to economically weaker sections from unreserved, otherwise referred to as general category. The petition challenging the Constitution (103rd) Amendment Act was filed by an NGO, Youth for Equality and it contends that the law alters the “basic structure” of the Constitution.
The legislation got Parliament’s approval earlier this month amid Opposition parties questioning the Union government’s “haste” in pushing the bill through months ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections and in the aftermath of the BJP’s defeat in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The petition cites a Supreme Court order by a nine-judge bench in 1992 Indra Sawhney case stating that economic backwardness cannot be the basis of reservation in jobs and education. “Such an Amendment is hence, vulnerable and ought to be struck down as it merely negates a binding judgement,” says the PIL.
The PIL further argues that the new quota law breaches the cap of 50 per cent total reservation in jobs and education. This ceiling was fixed by the top court in the M Nagaraj case in 2006. Under the existing constitutional arrangements, reservation in jobs and education is available to the members of the Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) communities.
The government has, however, maintained that the amended law can withstand legal scrutiny. Speaking during the debate on the Bill in the Lok Sabha, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “The apex court had stated that the rule of 50% [cap on reservations] applies only to reservation for backward classes… This bill is for social and economic justice.”
The PIL has also challenged the new quota law on the ground that the amendment provides for reservation in private unaided educational institutions, which has been clearly barred by the top court through two previous judgments.