In recent years, the Maratha reservation has become a deciding factor in the politics of Maharashtra, as well as the socio-economic background of the lives of the native Maratha people of Maharashtra. To understand the issue in its true sense, it is necessary to understand the turn of events that led to the demand for Maratha reservation, the outcomes of these events, and the position at which the Marathas stand today, on the ground of reservation and representation.
The turn of events
The demand for quota for Marathas began in 1981 when Mathadi Labour Union leader Annasaheb Patil staged a morcha (protest) in Mumbai in support of the proposal. However, with Patil’s death, the matter was pushed to the side.
The Maratha Mahasangh and the Maratha Seva Sangh organized a strong movement for the Maratha reservation in government employment and educational institutions in 1997. The topic was brought up again in 2000. Over time, the demand gained traction as political parties joined in the cause. It was mentioned in some of their electoral manifestos.
On the 9th of August, 2016, Marathas rallied in Aurangabad under the Maratha Kranti Morcha to condemn the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Kopardi village in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar. This was followed by 58 silent but enormous protests across the state between 2016 and 2017, was centred on reservation for the community in government employment and education in educational institutions, even though only the Kopardi district was the catalyst. The massive public turnout at the leaderless and apolitical demonstrations spread across Maharashtra, from cities to villages, and even to taluka levels.
These demonstrations were followed by a ten-point charter of demands being presented to the district collector, primarily demanding Maratha reservation, as well as the strictest of punishments for the rapist(s) as well as farmers receiving loan waivers, to relax their burdens.
By the end of 2017-18, these protests led to various incidents of suicide, demanding the rights of reservation for the community. Initiated in the Aurangabad district, the cases of suicide intensified, and the Marathas declared that they would settle for nothing less than reservation. This led to the Marathas coining a slogan to declare their might- ‘Ek Maratha, lakh Maratha’.
The NG Gaikwad commission and the adoption of the legislation
Back in 2016-17, Maharashtra was ruled by the BJP government which sensed these aggressions and decided to take cognizance of the issue. Hence the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis decided to set up the NG Gaikwad commission, presided over by Justice NG Gaikwad in 2017. The report submitted by the commission stated that Marathas should be awarded quota under the Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC), according to the commission’s findings. Even though the panel advised reserving, it did not define a quota percentage and instead left it up to the states to decide.
Followed by the findings of this commission, the Marathas were given reservation in 2018, under the Maharashtra State Socially and Educational Backward Act. This was approved by both the state legislative assembly and the council, getting passed under the sanction of the Maharashtra Backward Class Commission. The contesting political parties Congress and NCP unanimously supported the law presented by the former BJP-Sena administration.
This reservation was, however, not taken in a positive light by certain sections, and hence a PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court, which ultimately upheld the reservation status provided to the Maratha community, but specified that instead of the existing 16 per cent reservation provided to Marathas, the same should be reduced to 13 per cent while providing jobs on the reservation, and 12 per cent when it came down to providing educational grants and reservation.
This was followed by another setback for the Maratha community in 2020, where on the 9th of September, the Supreme Court decided to stay the quota provided to the Maratha community, calling it unconstitutional and saying that this reservation violated the provisions set under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court further said that till the verdict came out, no further reservation would be provided to the Maratha community, while those who had already availed the reservation benefits in the past would remain unaffected. Ultimately, on the 5th of May, 2021, the Supreme Court once and for all, quashed the provision of reservation for the Marathas, which has become the reason for the recent outrage and hustle.
Reasoning by the Bombay High Court to declare constitutionality
- Power is vested in the hands of the state governments to increase reservation beyond the ceiling limit of 50% in extraordinary circumstances.
- Based on factual data, the reports announced by the Gaikwad Commission it was justified that Marathas were a socially and economically backward class who deserved reservation under the extraordinary circumstances permit, exceeding ceiling limit.
- The State Government did not explicitly overrule any court order, thus it did not intrude on judicial power. By quashing the 2014 Ordinance and Act, it simply eliminated the foundation for the Court’s previous order.
- The Act was valid under Article 14 too, since it provided exclusivity to the Marathas, who were a newly identified socially backward class.
- The 102nd Constitution (Amendment) Act of 2018 does not limit state legislatures’ ability to implement Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution through a fair and sufficiently effective Commission.
Questions raised by the Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court
- Whether a larger bench needed to preside over and reconsider the judgement declared in the case of Indra Sawhney v. Union of India in order to take cognizance of whether or not new amendments were needed on the basis of changed social dynamics [1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217] ?
- Whether the Reservation of the Maharashtra State for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, as amended in 2019, granting 12 percent and 13 percent social reservation to the Maratha community in addition to 50 percent social reservation is covered by exceptional circumstances, as it was decided in the case of the constitutional bench in the Indra Sawhney case?
- Whether any case of extraordinary situation and exceptional circumstances has been made out by the state which decides that the facts stated by the Gaikwad commission can be co-related to the Indra Sawhney case?
- Whether the state government is barred under the 102nd Amendment of the Constitution to pass laws identifying socially and economically disadvantaged groups and imposing benefits on them under its enabling power?
- Whether these state powers under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) are in any way abridged by Article 342(A) which is to be read with the Constitution’s Article 366(26c)?
- Whether Article 342A of the Constitution deprives states of their ability to regulate or categorize “any backward class of citizens” and thus has an impact on India’s federal policy and structure?
Hence, with these given questions raised, the Supreme Court decided and pronounced that the said provisions granted to the Maratha community violated the Right to Equality provided to the citizens of India under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. With the same, all provisions provided to the Marathas under the Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) category were pronounced withheld, which has led to all the recent backlash that has erupted across the Maratha community.