Courts Update SC dismisses Centre's plea to review order on states'...

SC dismisses Centre’s plea to review order on states’ power to declare SEBC for quota

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New Delhi, Jul 2 (ILNS) The Supreme Court today dismissed the Centre’s plea to review its decision that the states no longer have powers to declare Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) for grant of quota in government jobs and admissions in higher education because of the 102nd Constitution amendment in 2018.

The Centre had filed a review petition in court against its interpretation of the 102nd Constitutional amendment in the case. The court in its May 5 order struck down a Maharashtra law that gave reservations in jobs and education to Marathas under the SEBC category.

A five-Judge Bench, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, held that there were not sufficient grounds to entertain the review petition filed by the Centre in May. The Bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat, said that various grounds taken in the review petition have already been dealt with in the main judgement.

The Supreme Court had ruled that after the insertion of Article 342A in the Constitution through the 102nd Amendment, it is the Central government alone that is empowered to identify SEBC and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1), specifying SEBCs in relation to each state and Union Territory.

On May 5, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, while dealing with the constitutionality of Maratha quota, had by 3:2 majority, held that after the 102nd Constitution Amendment, only the President has the power to notify SEBCs, and that the power of states was only to make recommendations.

The Court had ruled that after the insertion of Article 342A in the Constitution through the 102nd Amendment, it is the Centre alone that is empowered to identify SEBC and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1), specifying SEBCs in relation to each state and union territory.

The states can, through their existing mechanisms, only make suggestions to the President or the Commission under Article 338B for inclusion, exclusion or modification of castes or communities, in the list to be published under Article 342A (1), the Court ordered.

Justice Rao wrote a separate order, agreeing with Justice Bhat’s interpretation of 102nd Judgement. Justice Gupta also stated that he agrees with judgements of Justices Rao and Bhat. Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer (minority), however, opined that the 102nd Constitutional amendment does not take away the power of the state to identify backward classes in the state.

According to the apex court, Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution were untouched by the insertion of Article 342, which meant that the states continued to exercise their power to identify SEBCs and provide for reservation.

The 102nd Constitution Amendment Act of 2018 inserted Articles 338B, which dealt with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Class (NCBC), while 342A dealt with power of the President to notify a particular caste as SEBC and power of Parliament to change the list.

It extinguished the role of the state governments in declaring any community as OBC for the purpose of reservation.

The government, in its plea, had said that the minority of two Judges, including presiding Judge, has expressly held that Article 342A does not in any manner deprive states of their power and jurisdiction and competence to identify and declare the socially and educationally backward classes, which is the correct interpretation of Article 342A of the Constitution.

The previous BJP-Shiv Sena government had in 2018 enacted the SEBC Act of Maharashtra to grant reservation to people of the Maratha community in the state in jobs and admissions.

The Bombay High Court, while upholding the law in June 2019, had held that 16 per cent reservation was not justifiable and the quota should not exceed 12 per cent in employment and 13 per cent in admissions. ILNS/KR/RJ

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