The Mandal Verdict and Quota Conundrum (The Hindu)

Context:

  • Recently, the SC observed that the famous Indra Sawhney judgment of 1992 should be referred to a larger Bench.
  • The judgment set aside the previous rules and ruled that reservations can not exceed the 50 percent threshold for educational and employment purposes. 
  • The recent observation of the SC came in the garb of the controversial validity of the Maratha community reservation in Maharashtra for education and employment purposes which will take the overall quota to more than 50 percent.

Background and dilemma of the Court: 

  • The five-member Constitution Bench seeks to decide whether the judgment in Indra Sawhney vs Union of India, needs a relook in the light of following Constitutional amendments, judgments, and changed social dynamics of the society in the present scenario.
  • As Indra Sawhney’s judgment was a decision by a nine-member Bench, hence now a Bench of at least 11 judges will be required to reconsider the question if at all it needs to be relooked. 
  • Also, the court wants to consider the scenarios which fall under the “exceptional circumstances” mentioned in the Indra Sawhney judgment.
  • In 2020, the apex court stayed the implementation of Maharashtra law allowing reservation to Marathas in education and jobs in 2018.

Questions to be addressed:

  • There are three prevalent questions that need to be addressed in this case. First, whether the 102nd Amendment robs States of the power to make laws for socially and educationally backward classes and provide benefits to them.
  • Second, whether the newly inserted Article 342A of the Constitution curtails the State legislatures’ power to make laws under Articles 15(4) and 16(4), which subsequently deal with extraordinary provisions for OBCs and reservation in employment purposes.
  • Third, whether the federal structure of the Constitution is being affected by these changes made. 
  • Fourth, whether the capping of reservation at 50 percent still a viable option. 

Conclusion:

The challenge before the SC is aplenty and the expectations are high. While it seeks to balance the reservation system with equal opportunity for all, in the context of recent years. It has to evaluate whether the backward communities have risen and progressed to the level it was intended to in all these years. Striking the right balance between the center and the state is of paramount importance. While the apprehensions are scaling new heights, one can safely assume that the 11 Judge Bench would deliver yet another landmark judgment.