What is the 50% Quota Ceiling Set by the SC

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Overview:

The Patna HC set aside the Bihar government’s laws which resulted in the increases of the reservation for different backward classes from 50% to 65%

What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • Indira Sawhney Judgment and the Present Status of Reservation in India
  • Why the Quota in Bihar Challenged?
  • Arguments For and Against Reservation
  • The Verdict of the Patna HC

Why in News?

  • The Patna High Court set aside the amendments passed by the Bihar legislature in 2023 to increase the reservation for different backward classes from 50% to 65% in educational institutions and government jobs of the state.
  • The HC noted that the state government had not attempted any in-depth study before enhancing reservation beyond the limit (50%) set by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1992 Indira Sawhney judgement.

Indira Sawhney Judgment and the Present Status of Reservation in India

  • The SC’s 1992 judgement:
    • From 1989-1992, the Government of India sought to implement the Mandal Commission’s recommendation of reservation (27%) for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
      • In this context, the reservations under the Mandal Commission were challenged in the SC.
    • In the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India or the Mandal judgement, a 9-judge Constitution bench of the SC (by a 6-3 majority) ruled that the total quota must never exceed 50%.
    • The apex court called this limit fair and reasonable (without giving any justification) and added that the 50% reservations rule may be deviated from in certain extraordinary situations.
  • Present condition on reservation:
    • Reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs in legislatures, higher education and public employment cannot exceed 50% of the total seats.
    • However, some states (most notable is Tamil Nadu, where the reservation is 69%), the Union government and the SC itself have occasionally breached it over the years.
  • SC’s observations in different cases:
    • Maratha reservation: It resulted in the increasing of the total reservations in the state to 68% and was struck down by the SC in 2021 for violating the 50% ceiling established in its 1992 judgement.
    • Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) reservation: A five-judge Constitution bench of the court upheld the quota last year by a 3:2 majority, stating that the 50% ceiling is flexible and it was only in the context of reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs.

Why the Quota in Bihar Challenged?

  • Bihar had last year raised the quota for scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs), extremely backward classes (EBCs), and other backward classes (OBCs) in educational institutions and government jobs from 50% to 65%.
    • This had been done after a caste survey showed that these groups formed roughly 84% of the state’s population.
  • A clutch of petitioners challenged -
    • The Bihar Reservation of Vacancies in Posts and Services (for SC, STs and OBCs) Amendment Act, 2023 and
    • The Bihar Reservation (in Admission to Educational Institutions) Amendment Act, 2023.
  • The petitioner argued that there was no scientific analysis of the caste survey data, and that the quota increase was based solely on the lack of proportionate representation in government jobs and educational institutions.

Arguments For and Against Reservation

  • For: The State Government had given this reservation due to a lack of adequate representation of these classes and not on a proportionate basis.
  • Against:
    • Together with the 10% EWS quota, the laws had pushed reservation in Bihar to 75%, well past the 50% ceiling set by the SC.
    • After the caste survey, this decision of reservation was taken on the basis of the proportion of castes, and not on the basis of adequate representation in government jobs.
    • The case of caste survey is currently pending for hearing in the SC.

The Verdict of the Patna HC

  • It set aside the Bihar government’s laws as ultra vires the Constitution and violative of the equality clause under Articles 14, 15, and 16.
  • The HC said the enhancement of reservations beyond the 50% limit - as set by a nine-judge bench of the SC in 1992 - was “bad in law”.
    • This is because it not only violates the principles of equality emanating from the Constitution, it fails to demonstrate any extenuating circumstance that could enable it to breach the 50% norm.

Q.1. What is India's 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act 2019?

The 103rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution was put into effect in order to reduce inequality by providing a 10% quota for members of the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in government jobs and higher education institutions.

Q.2. What is India's 106th Constitutional Amendment Act 2023?

The 106th Constitutional Amendment Act 2023 seeks to allocate 33% of the seats in the directly elected Lok Sabha, State legislative assemblies and Delhi legislative assembly for women.

Source: Patna High Court strikes down 65% quota in Bihar | HT