By LE Desk

New Delhi, March 8: The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from all states on whether the 50 per cent ceiling limit on reservation needs to be reconsidered.

The ceiling was imposed by a nine-judge Constitution Bench in the Indira Sahwney case in 1992, wherein the court strictly held that reservation cannot exceed 50 per cent. However, the bench did indicate that in exceptional circumstances, reservation could be extended.

On Monday a five-judge bench, hearing a challenge to a law passed by Maharashtra in 2018 providing reservation to Marathas, said that it will examine whether the 50 per cent rule laid by the 1992 decision needs to be reconsidered, the Hindustan Times reported.

The bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, LN Rao, SA Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat issued a notice to all states in this regard.

The bench also asked states to respond to a 2018 Constitution (102nd amendment) Act brought about by Parliament, which gave constitutional recognition to the National Commission for Backward Classes. Article 342A was introduced via the amendment, by which the competence of states to make laws on reservation for Backward classes was taken away.

The bench said, “in view of the question of seminal importance on Article 342A, states have to be given opportunity to make their submissions.” The states were asked to make brief notes of submissions on whether they considered Article 342A as against the federal structure of the Constitution. The states were also asked to reply on whether Article 342A abridged their rights to create reservations for backward classes under Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution.

The request to seek a response from all states was raised by Maharashtra, which has maintained that it is justified in exceeding the 50 per cent ceiling in the state to benefit Marathas.

The 2018 Maratha quota law originally provided 16 per cent reservation to Marathas and came after years of protests by the community. In June 2019, the Bombay High Court trimmed the quantum of the quota to 12 per cent in education and 13 per cent in jobs. In its order, the high court said the 50 per cent cap could be breached in exceptional circumstances.

Representing Maharashtra, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi submitted that before considering the law that involves the interpretation of Article 342A and the Indira Sahwney decision all states must be heard.

Rohatgi said, “All states need to be heard as Article 342A takes away the legislative competence of states to make laws for backward classes under Articles 15 and 16 in education and employment.”

Attorney General KK Venugopal agreed that states will have to be heard as the 102nd amendment deals with the state’s power to legislate on reservation for backward classes after the 102nd amendment introduced National Commission for Backward Classes.

The court then agreed to have all states on board.

The bench will now consider the law passed by Maharashtra in light of the larger questions of law on which all states will be heard.

The next hearing in the case will be on March 15 and proceed on a day-to-day basis. The bench expects to wrap up the hearings by March 25.

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