Maratha Reservation: A Closer Look

The Marathas, a historically significant community in the Indian state of Maharashtra, have been at the center of a prolonged and contentious battle for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. This demand for quotas has seen sporadic protests, rallies, and, at times, even violent clashes. In recent months, this issue has reignited, drawing significant attention.

Marathas constitute a diverse group that ranges from landowners to peasants and warriors, encompassing a variety of castes. While Marathas form a significant portion of Maharashtra’s population, it is essential to understand that all Marathis are not Marathas. “Maratha” refers to a group of castes, whereas “Marathi” designates the language spoken by various communities in Maharashtra and some neighboring regions.

Timeline:

The first protests for reservations took place in 1982, led by labor union leader Annasaheb Patil. Initially, these demands focused on economic criteria. However, the shift towards caste-based reservations happened after the Mandal Commission’s report in 1990. In 2004, the Maharashtra government granted OBC status to Maratha-Kunbis and Kunbi-Marathas but excluded those who identified solely as Marathas. 

In July 2014, the Maharashtra state government passed an ordinance aimed at introducing a 16% reservation for the Maratha community, coupled with an additional 5% reservation for Muslims. The decision to enact this ordinance was based on the recommendations of the Rane Committee, which had been established under the leadership of then-Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. However, this ordinance faced legal challenges, as it was initially contested in the Bombay High Court and subsequently halted, first by the High Court and later by the Supreme Court.

Following the formation of a BJP-Shiv Sena-led government in 2014, the effort to introduce reservations for the Maratha community was revisited. The government once again promulgated the Maharashtra State SEBC Act, with the same goal. Nevertheless, the Bombay High Court, in 2015, put a stay on this act as well.

In 2016, a heinous incident, involving the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl from Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district, triggered widespread agitations. These protests, which demanded reservations, resulted in massive rallies taking place throughout the state. The Maratha community’s grievances, intensified by several suicides within the community, led to the establishment of the Gaikwad Commission in June 2017.

After years of ongoing protests and demonstrations, the Maharashtra State Socially and Educationally Backward Act (commonly referred to as the 2018 Act) was eventually passed in both the State Assembly and Council in 2018. Subsequently, the constitutionality of this act was challenged in the Bombay High court. In June 2019, a division bench of the Bombay High Court upheld the reservation but reduced it from the initial 16% to 12%.

Despite the High Court’s verdict, the implementation of the 2018 Act was stayed by the Supreme Court, which referred the case to a larger bench. Ultimately, the five judges bench of the Supreme Court of India, invalidated the Maratha reservation, leading to the striking down of the 2018 Act.

Supreme Court’s Decision:

The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the law was primarily based on the absence of compelling reasons or “extraordinary circumstances” that could justify exceeding the 50% reservation limit. The Gaikwad Commission Report, which recommended the Maratha reservation, did not provide a strong case for such exceptional circumstances. The Court concluded that surpassing the 50% cap, in this instance, would directly contravene the principles of equality enshrined in Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution.

Furthermore, the Court observed that the Maratha community already had a substantial presence in various essential administrative services. This led the Court to assert that providing additional reservations beyond the 50% limit would be inconsistent with the prevailing circumstances.

The Court’s decision also underscored the importance of the 50% reservation limit, as established in the Indra Sawhney case. The Court pointed out that this ceiling had been upheld in various constitutional judgments over four decades and was considered a fundamental aspect of Articles 14, 15, and 16 of the Constitution. Exceeding this limit, the Court contended, could jeopardize the principles of equality and reasonability, potentially resulting in a society characterized by caste-based rule, contrary to the constitutional intent.

Additionally, the judgment redefined the allocation of powers between states and the central government. It clarified that states no longer had the authority to identify Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs) under the 102nd Amendment. This centralization of power raised concerns about federalism and the SEBC listing process, potentially making it more intricate and impacting certain communities that had previously benefited from the reservation system. An alternative approach, involving the participation of governors in the SEBC listing process, could have provided a middle ground to address some of these challenges.

The recent outcry

Recently, a new wave of protests has erupted, primarily led by activist Manoj Jarange-Patil, who is demanding Kunbi caste certificates for all Marathas. The state government’s response has included the issuance of Kunbi caste certificates to some Marathas. However, this solution has raised concerns among other OBC groups who feel that the inclusion of Marathas would reduce their share of reservations.

The current protests have led to violence and political turmoil in Maharashtra, with politicians resigning in support of the Maratha reservation demands. Disturbing occurrences, such as putting Buses on fire, the disruption of traffic on vital national highways, and the strategic blockades, have significantly heightened the existing tensions. The situation remains volatile, and the protests have led to property damage, civil unrest, and even clashes with law enforcement, further exacerbating the overall instability in the region. While the government has initiated dialogues, the situation remains complex and contentious.

Conclusion:

Affirmative action, which involves policy-driven efforts to enhance the representation of socially disadvantaged groups in various domains like education and employment, has been a part of India’s governance through reservation policies. These policies were initially intended to promote the welfare and social advancement of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. However, over time, these policies have disproportionately favored the more privileged sections within these communities, leading to an unequal allocation of resources and hindering the social and economic progress of the less privileged.

Moreover, the issue of reservations often becomes a political tool, with promises made during elections to win voter support. For instance, in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 10% quota in jobs and education for economically disadvantaged individuals among the upper castes. Notably, the Indian Constitution’s Article 15(4) and 16(4) do not explicitly include the term ‘economic’ when discussing reservations. The landmark Indra Sawhney judgment also emphasized that reservation should not solely be based on economic factors and should not breach a limit of 50%.

Caste-based disparities continue to persist in our country, and it is imperative to reform and modernize reservation policies. Currently, there is a lack of a robust mechanism for regular evaluation of the progress made by Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC). The Maratha Reservation case has raised questions about the definition of ‘backward’ in contemporary India. However, the Government should not take any decision in haste or by succumbing to the political pressure. Reservation, in India, has always been a contentious issue, be it the Jats in Haryana or the Marathas in Maharashtra or the Mandal Commission Report. A Committee shall be constituted which should carry out a comprehensive analysis of the situation and based on those recommendations, should the government act. Therefore one can only hope that future judgments will address these concerns and strive to restore the principles of equality and integrity with respect to Reservations while safeguarding the Constitution’s basic structure.

One comment

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