Reviewing Reservation


Supreme Court asked states whether they were in favour of extending caste-based reservation beyond the 50 per cent ceiling set by it in Indra Sawhney case (nine-judge bench) of 1992.

Background of the issue

  • The apex court framed this as one among the several questions to be decided while considering the constitutional validity of a 2018 Maharashtra law 
  • 2018 Maharashtra law gave 16% reservation to the Maratha community in jobs and admissions by terming them socially and educationally backward class in the state. 
  • This law got past the scrutiny of the Bombay High Court in June 2019 but the quantum of reservation stood reduced to 12 per cent in admissions and 13 per cent in jobs.
  • With the introduction of this Act, the reservation benefits in the state exceeded 50 per cent.
  • In addition to Maharashtra, there are three other states – Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Chhattisgarh – which have passed similar laws exceeding the 50 per cent reservation mark and are under challenge in the Supreme Court. 

Presently, Constitution Bench will decide on the following broad issues

  • Relook into Reservation limits: Whether the Indira Sawhney case judgement of 1992 requires a relook by larger bench in the light of subsequent Constitutional amendments, judgements and changed social dynamics of the society.
  • Marata Quota Law: The SC will have to decide whether the Marata Quota law is covered by the exemption of “exceptional circumstances” by which reservations can cross the 50% mark
  • Federalism and Power of States: The SC will have to also examine whether 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act deprives a state legislature of its power to enact a legislation to identify socially and economically backward classes within the state to confer quota benefits to them.
  • Article 342A: The article 342A (power of the President to notify a particular caste as Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC). The SC will look into whether the Article 342A abrogates a State’s power to legislate for or classify “any backward classes of citizens” and thereby, affects the federal policy/structure.

Background for Indra Sawhney Case        

  • Mandal Commission: The Second Backward Classes Commission, famously known as the Mandal Commission, was set up in 1979 to determine the criteria for defining socially and educationally backward classes. 
  • OBC Reservation: The Mandal report identified 52 percent of the population at that time as ‘Socially and Economically Backward Classes’ (SEBCs) and recommended 27 per cent reservation for SEBCs in addition to the previously existing 22.5 per cent reservation for SC/STs.
  • Challenged in Court: The then V P Singh led-Central government wanted to implement the Mandal Commission report in 1990, but it was challenged in the Supreme Court. The verdict in the Indira Sawhney case, which came up before a nine-judge bench, was delivered in 1992. 
  • Celling on Reservation with exceptions: The pronouncement in the Indra Sawhney v Union of India fixed a cap of 50 percent reservation. The Court had, however, said that the cap can be breached under exceptional circumstances.
  • IR Coelho Case: In this case, SC delivered a unanimous verdict upholding the authority of the judiciary to review any law, which destroy or damage the basic structure as indicated in fundamental rights, even if they have been put in 9th schedule.

102nd Constitution Amendment Act

  • 102nd Constitution Amendment Act, 2018 provides constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) (earlier it was statutory body)
  • 102nd Constitution Amendment Act inserted new Articles 338 B and 342 A.
  • Article 338B provides authority to NCBC to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.
  • Article 342 A empowers President to specify socially and educationally backward classes in various states and union territories. He can do this in consultation with Governor of concerned State. However, law enacted by Parliament will be required if list of backward classes is to be amended.


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