Recently, the Supreme Court passed a stay order against operation of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, passed by the State of Maharashtra in 2018. The Act provides a 16% quota to the Maratha community in both- education and government employment. Subsequently, this increased the aggregate quota of all reservations allowed in Maharashtra; hence crossing the 50% limit. This is in contravention to the landmark judgement of the SC in Indira Sawhney v. UOI in 1993 that had put a 50% ceiling on reservation by individual states and stated that the same could be exceeded only in “exceptional and extraordinary circumstances”.
Subsequently, a plea was filed against this in the Bombay High Court. A three judge bench upheld the validity of the reservation to the Maratha community but capped the same at 12% for education and 13% for employment. This too exceeded the 50% cap. The same was challenged in the Apex Court through an appeal in case of Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. The Chief Minister. A three judge bench of the Supreme Court along with passing of the stay order and referring the issue to a Constitution Bench of five or more judges for final adjudication observed the following:
1. There is a need for reconsideration of the Judgement of the Court in Indira Sawhney v. UOI and whether exceeding the 50% cap is constitutionally valid.
2. The said issue required an interpretation of the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018 as this helps determine the competence of the State Legislature to declare a particular caste to be socially and educationally backward.
3. The court clarified that the said stay order was not to affect those that had already availed the benefits of the SEBC Act.
The case is to be placed before CJI SA Bobde, who shall decide on the constitution of the larger bench.