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SC declares Maratha quota law unconstitutional


  • A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously declared a Maharashtra law which provides reservation benefits to the Maratha community, taking the quota limit in the State in excess of 50%, as unconstitutional.
  • The SC said: The Centre alone is empowered to identify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC) and include them in the Central List for claiming reservation benefits.


GS-II: Polity and Governance (Judgements & Cases, Judiciary, Government Policies & Interventions), GS-II: Social Justice (Welfare Schemes, Issues Relating to Development, Education related issues)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Who are the Marathas?
  2. The 2018 Legislation
  3. The 2019 Judgement
  4. Recent Supreme Court Judgement
  5. Indra Sawhney Case Regarding cap on reservation quota

Who are the Marathas?

  • The Marathas are a group of castes comprising peasants, landowners among others.
  • Not all Marathi-speaking persons belong to Maratha community.
  • A politically dominant community in Maharashtra, it comprises nearly one-third of the population of the state.
  • Historically, Marathas have been identified as a ‘warrior’ caste with large land-holdings.

Situation of Marathas

  • The Marathas are a politically dominant community who make up 32% of Maharashtra’s population.
  • They have historically been identified as a ‘warrior’ caste with large landholdings.
  • Eleven of the state’s 19 chief ministers so far have been Marathas.
  • While division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline of prosperity among middle- and lower middle-class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy.

Why do the politically, socially and economically dominant Marathas want reservation?

  • In 2016 Marathas under the banner of Maratha Kranti Morcha came together at Aurangabad to protest the rape and killing of a 15-year-old girl in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra.
  • Although Kopardi was the trigger, the Maratha consolidation, leading to 58 silent, but massive, rallies across the state between 2016-17, was centred on reservation for the community in government jobs and educational institutions.
  • At the end of every rally, a ten-point charter of demands was presented to the district collector. High on the agenda was Maratha reservation.
  • In the second phase of agitation between 2017-18, street protests took a violent turn and even led to some suicides.

The 2018 Legislation

  • In 2018, the Maratha community was given the reservation under the Maharashtra State Socially and Educational Backward Act.
  • The special act was sanctioned by Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission and approved in both the assembly and council.
  • The emphasis on legislation was to give reservation under Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC), a legal and constitutional validity.

The 2019 Judgement

  • In 2019, a division bench commenced hearing of petitions against the Maharashtra State Socially and Educational Backward Act and the Bombay HC held that the limit of reservation should not exceed 50%.
  • It ruled that the 16% quota granted by the state was not ‘justifiable’.
  • It reduced the quota to 12% in education and 13% in government jobs.
  • For this, the court relied on findings of the 11-member Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC).
  • It also said that in exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situations, this 50% limit can be crossed.
  • This limit should be subject to availability of contemporaneous data reflecting backwardness, inadequacy of representation and without affecting the efficiency in administration.
  • The Court had said that while the backwardness of the community was not comparable with SCs and STs.
  • It was comparable with several other backward classes (OBCs), which find place in the list of OBCs pursuant to the Mandal Commission.

What is the existing reservation in Maharashtra post HC verdict?

  • In Mandal Commission case 1993, the SC had ruled that total reservation for backward classes cannot go beyond the 50%-mark.
  • Maharashtra is one of the few states that are an exception to this.
  • Following the 2001 State Reservation Act, the total reservation in the state was 52%.
  • Along with the 12-13% Maratha quota, the total reservation is 64-65%.
  • The 10 % Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota announced by the Centre is also effective in the state.

Recent Supreme Court Judgement

  • The Supreme Court bench found there was no “exceptional circumstances” or “extraordinary situation” in Maharashtra which required the Maharashtra government to break the 50% ceiling limit to bestow quota benefits on the Maratha community.
  • The Supreme Court struck down the findings of the Justice N.G. Gaikwad Commission which led to the enactment of Maratha quota law and set aside the Bombay High Court judgment which validated the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018. 
  • In fact, the Supreme Court held that a separate reservation for the Maratha community violates Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (due process of law).
  • Most importantly, the Supreme Court declined to re-visit the its 1992 Indira Sawhney judgment, which fixed the reservation limit at 50%.
  • The Supreme Court also said that the President (that is the Central government) alone, to the exclusion of all other authorities, is empowered to identify SEBCs and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1), which shall be deemed to include SEBCs in relation to each State and Union Territory for the purposes of the Constitution. [Article 338B deals with the structure, duties and powers of the Commission while 342-A speaks about the power of the President to notify a class as Socially and Educationally Backward (SEBC) and the power of Parliament to alter the central SEBC list.]
  • If the commission prepares a report concerning matters of identification, such a report has to be shared with the State government, which is bound to deal with it, in accordance with provisions of Article 338B. However, the final determination culminates in the exercise undertaken by the President (i.e., the Central Government, under Article 342A (1).
  • However, the President’s prerogative as far as the identification and inclusion of SEBCs in the List would not affect the States’ power to make reservations in favour of particular communities or castes, the quantum of reservations, the nature of benefits and the kind of reservations, and all other matters falling within the ambit of Articles 15 and 16.

Indra Sawhney Case Regarding cap on reservation quota

  • The Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India had ruled that the total number of reserved seats/places/positions cannot exceed 50% of what is available, and that under the constitutional scheme of reservation, economic backwardness alone could not be a criterion.
  • While 50% shall be the rule, it is necessary not to put out of consideration certain extraordinary situations inherent in the great diversity of this country and the people.
  • It might happen that in far-flung and remote areas the population inhabiting those areas might, on account of their being out of the main stream of national life and in view of conditions peculiar to and characteristic to them, need to be treated in a different way, some relaxation in this strict rule may become imperative.
  • In doing so, extreme caution is to be exercised and a special case made out.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023