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'Won't Meet Judicial Scrutiny': Maratha Activists Say New Bill Is a Poll Ploy by Maharashtra Govt

This is the third time a Bill of this kind has been put forth by the state – the first two attempts were struck down by the courts as being legally unsound and crossing the 50% overall reservation limit.
Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde. Photo: X/@mieknathshinde

New Delhi: The Maharashtra state assembly on Tuesday (February 20) unanimously passed a Bill reserving 10% seats in educational institutions and government jobs for the Maratha community. This is the third time a Bill of this kind has been put forth by the state – the first two attempts were struck down by the courts as being legally unsound.

The Bill states that those from the ‘creamy layer’ will be excluded from this reservation. All three Bills have been introduced in the run-up to the elections. This time too, Maratha community leaders have argued that the Bill is an electoral trick and will not stand the legal test in courts as it has not been properly formulated.

The Eknath Shinde government introduced the Bill on the basis of the Maratha community’s “social and educational backwardness”, which it says was established by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission survey. However, this claim is rife with controversy as six members of the Commission – including its chairman, Justice (retired) Anand Nirgude – resigned, saying that the state government was interfering with its work and trying to force them into declaring the Maratha community as backward.

Both opposition leaders and Maratha leaders who have been agitating for the reservation are unconvinced by the new Bill. Manoj Jarange, who had become the face of the Maratha protests, said that the Maratha community should have been included in the OBC community instead of being added as a separate reserved section. “Government has given us a separate reservation which crosses 50% ceiling and which does not stand the scrutiny of the law,” he said, according to The Times of India.

“We are disappointed with govt and especially with chief minister Eknath Shinde, who had taken a pledge in the name of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj that he would be giving reservation, but today’s decision will not stand legal scrutiny,” Pravin Indulkar, advocate and Maratha activist, said.

Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar said that the new Bill closely resembled the two others that had been rejected by the courts. “The draft of the bill cleared by state legislature today is the same as that of the one presented before the apex court. We need to see what happens to the fresh bill in Supreme Court,” he said.

Previous Supreme Court verdict on Maratha reservation

On October 13 this year, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said a curative petition against the apex court’s judgement holding the Maratha reservation law unconstitutional will be listed for consideration, the Hindu reported.

In May 2021, the top court had declared reservation for the Maratha community as unconstitutional as it breached the 50% quota limit. The court had also refused to revisit its 1992 Indira Sawhney verdict which fixed the ceiling limit for reservation at 50%.

The court had further said that it found no “exceptional circumstances” or “extraordinary situation” to break the 50% ceiling limit to bestow quota benefits on the Maratha community.

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