Maratha quota unconstitutional, violates right to equality, says SC



  • A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously declared a Maharashtra law, which provides reservation benefits to the Maratha community taking the quota limit in the State in excess of 50%, unconstitutional.
  • The Bench, led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, found there was no “exceptional circumstances” or “extraordinary situation” in Maharashtra, which required the State government to break the 50% ceiling limit to bestow quota benefits on the Maratha community.
  • The Supreme Court struck down the findings of the Justice M.G. Gaikwad Commission, which led to the enactment of the Maratha quota law, and set aside the Bombay High Court judgment which validated the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018.
  • The Supreme Court held that a separate reservation for the Maratha community violated Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (due process of law).

1992 Indra Sawhney judgment

  • In 1979, the Second Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission) was set up.
  • It was tasked to determine the criteria for defining the socially and educationally backward classes.
  • The Mandal report identified 52% of the population at that time as “Socially and Economically Backward Classes” (SEBCs).
  • It thus recommended 27% reservation for SEBCs.
  • This was in addition to the previously existing 22.5% reservation for SC/STs.
  • In 1990, the V P Singh led-government set out to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations.
  • This was challenged in court amidst widespread protests against the move.
  • The case came up before a nine-judge Bench and a 6:3 verdict was delivered in 1992, popularly called the Indra Sawhney judgement.

The landmark Indra Sawhney ruling set two important precedents: 

  • First, it said that the criteria for a group to qualify for reservation is “social and educational backwardness”.
  • Additionally, the court also reiterated the 50% limit to vertical quotas it had set out in earlier judgements in 1963 (M R Balaji v State of Mysore) and in 1964 (Devadasan v Union of India).
  • It reasoned that this was needed to ensure “efficiency” in administration.
  • The court said this 50% limit will apply, unless in “exceptional circumstances”.
    • The social and educational backwardness criteria stemmed from the interpretation of various constitutional provisions.
    • But the 50% limit is often criticised as being an arbitrary limit.


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