Read Judgment: PATTALI MAKKAL KATCHI v. A. MAYILERUMPERUMAL & ORS
New Delhi, April 1, 2022: Observing that there is no substantial basis for classifying the VanniakulaKshatriyas into one group, to be treated differentially from the remaining 115 communities within the Most Backward Classes (MBCs) and Denotified Communities(DNCs), the Supreme Court has held that the Tamil Nadu Law providing 10.5% Vanniyar reservation quota in educational institutions and appointment in the services under the State, is in violation of Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India.
The Division Bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai upheld the judgement of the Madras High Court whereby the Tamil Nadu Special Reservation of seats in Educational Institutions including Private Educational Institutions and of appointments or posts in the services under the State within the Reservation for the Most Backward Classes and DenotifiedCommunities Act, 2021, was declared unconstitutional.
The matter emanates from the time when the Madras High Court, in the year 1947, had declared communal representation as unconstitutional. Consequent to this judgment, the State of Madras adopted a 20-point roster, with seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes. Later in the year 1957, the State Government made a sub-classification amongst Backward Classes. Most Backward Communities were identified and educational concessions were extended to them.
Later, the Tamil Nadu 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, 1993 (1994 Act) was enacted on March 21, 2012, the Government prescribed additional terms of reference to the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission, requesting the Commission to examine and recommend upon the demand made by various communities to provide for internal reservation, within the reservation provided to MBCs and DNCs.
On June 13, 2012, a report was submitted by the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission, chaired by Justice M.S. Janarthanam (retd.) of the Madras High Court recommending internal reservation of 10.5 per cent for the Vanniakula Kshatriyas, with the remaining six members of the Commission submitting a dissent note.
Justice M. Thanikachalam eventually recommended sub-categorization amongst the MBCs and DNCs based on the proportion of their population. On February 24, 2021, a bill for special reservation within the 20% reserved for MBCs and DNCs was passed and it received the assent of the Governor on February 26,2021.
By the 2021 Act, reservation of seats in educational institutions, including private educational institutions, and reservation in appointment or posts in the services under the State were provided in the following manner: 10.5 % for Part-MBC (V) Communities, 7% for Part-MBC and DNC Communities and 2.5% for Part-MBC Communities. In terms of the Schedule annexed to the 2021 Act, Part-MBC(V) consists of Vanniakula Kshatriya community (including Vanniyar, Vanniya, VanniaGounder, Gounder or Kander, Padayachi, Palli and Agnikula Kshatriya), Part-MBC and DNC comprise 25 communities from the MBCs and 68 DNCs and the remaining 22 communities of MBCs come under the category of Part-MBC.
Hence, writ petitions were filed in the High Court of Madras assailing the constitutional validity of the 2021 Act and the High Court declared the 2021 Act to be ultra vires the provisions of the Constitution.
The Bench was of the opinion that the object of the 2021 Act is to achieve equitable distribution of the benefit of 20% reservation provided to MBCs and DNCs.At the time of enactment of the 2021 Act, 116 castes were to be found in the cumulative lists of MBCs and DNCs.
The Apex Court observed that choosing a particular caste and providing a special reservation of 10.5% out of the 20% to such caste is discriminatory, in the absence of any sound differentiation from communities who are similarly situated and were, therefore, grouped together for the purposes of receiving the benefits of 20% reservation.
“While the State Government has the competence to classify the Vanniakula Kshatriyas or any other community or group of communities within backward classes as a particular class for the grant of special measures, there should be a reasonable basis for categorising such communities into a different section from the rest of the communities within the MBCs and DNCs, on grounds which cannot be superficial or illusory,” added the Bench.
Holding that the High Court had committed an error in holding that the 2021 Act is violative of Article 342-A., the Bench didn’t agree with the view that determining the extent of reservation for a community amongst the list of Most Backward Classes amounts to identification.
Clarifying that there is no bar to the sub-classification amongst backward classes, the Bench opined that as the 2021 Act dealt with sub-classification and apportionment of certain percentage of reservation for the purpose of determining the extent of reservation of communities within the MBCs and DNCs, it is a permissible exercise of power by the State Government under Article 342-A of the Constitution in terms of the judgment of this Court in Dr Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister.
Prior to the 105th Amendment Act, what was prohibited for the State to carry out under Article 342-A is the identification of SEBCs, by inclusion or exclusion of communities in the Presidential list of SEBCs. It is clear that the exercise of identification of MBCs and DNCs had been completed by the State pursuant to the 1994 Act, noticed the Court.
The Bench was also of the view that the 105th Amendment Act being prospective in operation, it wasthe 102nd Amendment Act which held the field at the time of enactment of the 2021 Act.
Affirming that that there is no bar on the legislative competence of the State to enact the 2021 Act, the Bench said, “Legislative competence of the State Legislature can only be circumscribed by express prohibition contained in the Constitution itself and Article 31-B does not stipulate any such express prohibition on the legislative powers of the State.”
Referring to the 1994 Act, the Court observed that detailing the extent of reservation for communities already identified as MBCs and DNCs, which is the thrust of the 2021 Act, cannot be said to be in conflict with the 1994 Act, as determination of extent of reservation for various communities was not the subject matter of the 1994 Act.
As regards the letter of Justice Thanikachalam, Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission, which formed the basis of the 2021 Act, the Bench found that the Government had committed an error in accepting the recommendations.
Thus, the Bench concluded the matter by saying, “Finally, on the 2021 Act, we are of the opinion that there is no substantial basis for classifying the VanniakulaKshatriyas into one group to be treated differentially from the remaining 115 communities within the MBCs and DNCs, and therefore, the 2021 Act is in violation of Articles 14, 15 and 16. We uphold the judgment of the High Court on this aspect.”
Concluding that the 2021 Act is ultra vires the Constitution, the Apex Court refrained from delving into the issue of non-compliance by the State Government with the consultation requirement prescribed under clause (9) of Article 338-B at the time of enactment of the 2021 Act.