Maratha Reservation Issue – UPSC GS2

  • The SC has struck down the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018.
About the SEBC Act 2018:
  • It provides 16 percent reservation to the Maratha community in jobs and admissions.
  • The law views the Maratha community as a socially and educationally backward class (SEBC).
Demand for Maratha Reservation & Genesis of SEBC Act 2018:
  • The Marathas are a politically dominant community who make up 32% of Maharashtra’s population.
  • They have historically been identified as a ‘warrior’ caste with large landholdings. Eleven of the state’s 19 chief ministers so far have been Marathas.
  • While the division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline of prosperity among middle- and lower-middle-class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy.
  • The discontent in the community was a spillover into protests and unrest until the quota was announced.
  • The issue of reservation was rejected by at least three national commissions and three state commissions in the past.
  • However, in 2018, the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (headed by Justice M.G. Gaikwad) recommended reservation for the Marathas. The Commission believed that extraordinary circumstances existed for a Maratha quota.
Judgment of SC:
  • The court held that the 2018 act goes against Articles 14 and 15 (right to equality and protection against discrimination) of the Indian Constitution. It exceeds the ceiling of 50% reservation set by the 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment.
  • Further, the act fails to prove the existence of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ under which the 50% limit can be breached. The data collected and presented by the (Justice Gaikwad) Commission proves that the Marathas are not socially and educationally backward.
  • The court held that the 102nd Constitution Amendment has taken away the power of states to identify Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs). It means that the Centre alone is empowered to identify SEBC.
  • The States could only make suggestions to the President or the statutory commissions for inclusion, exclusion, or modification in the SEBC List.
Way Forward:
  • The judgment should act as an eye-opener for other dominant communities that are demanding reservation. Eg – Patidars in Gujarat.
  • The Maharashtra Government can undertake a fresh study to support the Maratha claim for backward status and affirmative action. However, a more prudent approach would be to solve supply-side issues in education and employment. This would curtail unnecessary demand for reservation.
  • A review of inclusion/exclusion power in the SEBC list can be held as some experts believe that participation of states ensures better recognition.

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