Bombay High Court upholds Maratha reservations

Potentially marking a new era in provision of reservations in India, the Bombay High Court has upheld the provision of a reserved quota for Maratha community in educational institutions and government jobs.

It has, however, asked the government to bring down the percentage of reservation to 13%.

With this, the total percentage of reserved seats will rise to 65% .

Marathas are an agricultural community in the state, and are estimated to make up around 32% of the total population in the state.

Though well organized and powerful in state politics, the community has been trailing ‘forward communities’ like Brahmins in terms of its presence in institutions of higher education and government jobs.

The approval of the reservation quota for Marathas marks a victory for pro-reservation activists across the country, who have been arguing that the current limit of 50% on reserved seats is not enough to ensure decent represntation for all backward communities in government jobs and institutions of higher education.

The 50% cap was imposed by the Supreme Court in the famous Indra Sawhney vs Union of India case.

The court set down two rules in the case — first was the cap of 50%, and the second was that economic backwardness alone cannot be a basis for providing reservation to any community.

In other words, reservations cannot be provided to a community simply because the community suffers from low income levels. It can only be provided if it is proven that the community suffers from low representation in government jobs and educational institutions.

The 50% rule has been attacked by pro-reservation activists, who have pointed out that the ‘non upper caste’ sections of the society — which comprise about 65-70% of the total population of the country, need to be provided representation that is proportionate to their population to make government truly representative, and to ensure that their rights remain protected.

However, at present, only the most backward communities — known as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes — are currently assured representation in proportion to their population, or about 22.5%.

Because of the Supreme Court’s 50% cap, other non-upper caste communities are confined to a 27% quota, so as to keep the total reserved seats at 49.5%. However, protestors point out that these intermediate communities — collectively called OBCs or Other Backward Classes — comprise about 50% of the total population of the country, and a 27% quota cannot ensure them proportionate representation in government.

Numerically powerful groups such as Marathas and Patels, who are from an agricultural background, have also been agitating to be included in the OBC segment, pointing out that they are not proportionately represented in government and in educational institutions.

However, these calls have been opposed by the communities that are currently included in the OBC list, forcing Maharashtra government to come up with a separate quota for the Marathas.

Today’s decision by the Bombay High Court to uphold the Maratha quota is likely to open the doors to similar quotas for other non-upper caste, but numerically dominant groups, including Patels and Jats.