SC gives a life of year to TN & Ktk laws providing over 50 per cent quota

July 14, 2010: The Times of India

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave one-year extension to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka laws providing quota over and above the 50% cap fixed by apex court judgments for admission and employment, but asked the governments to place quantifiable data about OBC population before the backward commissions to justify quotas exceeding the ceiling it laid down.

The court’s insistence that the two state governments back up their pitch for quotas far exceeding the 50% cap can lead to renewed pressure for including caste as a criterion in the ongoing census. More importantly, the order is interpreted to suggest that the court could consider relaxing the 50% ceiling it prescribed if the states were to support their demand by evidence of the size of the OBC population and their ¶social and educational backwardness¶ — the eligibility for quota.

SC introduced the 50% limit on reservations including those for SCs/STs in November 1992 in its verdict in the Indira Sawhney case where it upheld the implementation of Mandal Commission’s recommendation to reserve 27% of central jobs for OBCs.

There were subsequent judgments, including Ashoka Thakur, which upheld extension of 27% reservation in admissions to OBCs in central government educational institutes but reiterated that the quantum of quota could not exceed 50%.

However, both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which had provided reservation in excess of 50% even prior to Indra Sawhney judgment, brought in legislations justifying the quantum on the ground that they were done prior to the 1992 judgment.

Tamil Nadu, which provides 69% reservation, went a step ahead and put the TN Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and Appointment or Posts in Services under the State) Act, 1993, in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution, thus barring judicial scrutiny of the constitutional validity of the law. An identical law enacted by Karnataka in 1994 provided upto 73% reservation.

Both state laws providing for quota in excess of 50% cap were challenged before the SC and even contempt petitions were filed as they violated the constitution Bench’s Indra Sawhney judgment.

In its 2007 judgment in I R Cohello case, the SC ruled that judicial scrutiny of a 9th Schedule law was possible if it was shown that the legislation was violative of the basic structure of the Constitution.

In the light of this judgment, a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia on Tuesday agreed to extend the life of these legislations, operating for more than 15 years, for another year, but with an important rider that the state governments would revisit these laws and produce quantifiable data to prove before state backward commission the necessity of reservation in excess of 50%.

While Tamil Nadu has a backward commission, Karnataka is yet to constitute one. Moreover, if the state governments come up with some data proving that the OBC population exceeded the reservation presently provided, then it would give them a ground to continue with the present arrangement or even seek more quota for backward classes.

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