Supreme Court may revisit 50% limit on total quotas

It may impact the challenge to legality of Tamil Nadu law which allows 69% quota in jobs, educational institutions.

The Supreme Court on Monday may have opened up the possibility of reconsidering the ceiling imposed on total reservation, a move that may impact the challenge to the legality of a Tamil Nadu reservation law which allows 69% quota in State government jobs and educational institutions.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan had, on March 3, deferred hearing a challenge to the law, opting to wait for a Constitution Bench to decide the validity of the Maratha quota law first.

However, on Monday, the Constitution Bench, which is also led by Justice Bhushan, decided to expand its ambit and re-examine whether reservation limit could cross the 50% ceiling limit as done by certain States like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. The court, in short, decided to examine whether its Indira Sawhney case judgment of 1992, which fixed the ceiling limit of 50% for reservation in government jobs and educational admissions, requires a re-look by a larger Bench.

The Constitution Bench has issued notice to the States, providing them with an opportunity to clarify their position on the 50% reservation mark. Though the court has kept the question of legality of the Tamil Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of seats in Educational Institutions and of appointments or posts in the Services under the State) Act of 1993 on the backburner on March 3, the issue is likely to arise for discussion before the Constitution Bench in the coming days.

The deferment of the Tamil Nadu case on March 3 had drawn the spotlight away from the State’s reservation law with the State gearing up for Assembly elections.

On March 3, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for the Tamil Nadu government, had even submitted that the Assembly polls were due and the case should be taken up after the elections.

Mr. Rohatgi and senior advocate Shekhar Naphade along with advocate Yogesh Kanna, for Tamil Nadu, had said the increase in reservation percentage in the State was based on “quantifiable data”. They had repeatedly argued that the case in Tamil Nadu was different from other States and the 1993 law was protected under the Ninth Schedule from judicial review.

The Tamil Nadu quota law of 1993 was challenged in the apex court by a student, C.V. Gayathri, through her father, S. Vaitheeswaran. Ms. Gayathri had submitted that the “Tamil Nadu Reservation Act, 1993 provides 69% reservation in admissions and in public services, which is arbitrary, unreasonable and excessive. This excessive reservation seriously affects general category students and candidates to the public services.”

Ms. Gayathri had said the Act was contrary to the principle laid down by the Indira Sawhney case, which had concluded that reservation of “50% shall be the rule, only in certain exceptional and extraordinary situations for bringing far-flung and remote areas population into mainstream said 50% rule can be relaxed”.

Ms. Gayathri had also argued that the Tamil Nadu law violated the 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 2018. One of the issues framed by the Constitution Bench on Monday is with regard to the constitutionality of this constitutional amendment.

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