On June 17, 2021, the Maratha Kranti Morcha launched a silent sit-in agitation in Kolhapur against the Supreme Court judgment abrogating the Maratha quota. It was led by Yuvraj Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, Member of Parliament (MP) of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
The Maharashtra government is likely to file a review petition against the judgment. However, BJP MP Sambhajiraje asserted that the agitation will not be withdrawn in a meeting between him and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
Prakash Ambedkar, leader of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), and several other MPs and MLAs across Kolhapur extended their support for reinstating the Maratha quota.
Hasan Musrif, Rural Development Minister, stated the government will take necessary steps to address the reservation issue.
The sit-in follows Covid-19 protocols
The protests have been initiated amidst the rising Covid-19 positivity rate in Kolhapur.
Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Health Minister Rajesh Tope reviewed the situation. Following this, the Superintendent of Police in Kolhapur provided instructions to the demonstrators to follow Covid-19 protocols.
Shailesh Balkwade, Superintendent of Police informed that one thousand police personnel were deployed and nakabandis were practiced at several checkpoints to ensure Covid-19 appropriate behavior is followed.
The Supreme Court judgment.
In May, the Supreme Court had stayed the 2018 Maharashtra law that granted reservations to Marathas in educational institute admissions and government careers.
The bench revisited the 1992 landmark case Indra Sawhney v Union of India. The nine-judge bench ruling upheld the Mandal Commission and provided two fundamental precedents –
- A “socially and educationally backward” group falls under the criteria for reservation.
- It restated that a 50% quota limit is necessary to ensure efficient administration.
- Only exceptional cases could exceed the 50% cap.
The Maratha reservations exceeded the 50 percent cap. The court viewed the Indra Sawhney case and Maharashtra State Backward Commission report to see whether the Maratha quota falls under exceptional conditions. The bench rejected the request to revisit the case or refer to a larger bench for reconsideration.
The state government argued that the population of the backward class is 85% and the reservation is 50%, an increase in the limit is evident since it would fall under exceptional circumstances.
The bench disagreed stating, “The Marathas are the dominant forward class and are in the mainstream of National life. The above situation is not extraordinary.” The bench further stated the reservation criteria laid down in the Sawhney case provides balance under Article 15(1), 15(4), 16 (1), and Article 16 (4), which cannot be termed as arbitrary.
“Democracy is an essential feature of our Constitution and part of our basic structure. If the reservation goes above the 50% limit…it will be a slippery slope, the political pressure makes it hard to reduce the same” it explained.
Addressing the Maharashtra act, the bench asserts that the reservation exceeding 50% cap violates articles 14 and 16 of the constitution.
The Court also stated the 102nd Constitutional amendment does not violate the constitution. The amendment gives constitutional status to the National Commission of Backward Class.
Article 33B undertakes the structure, power, and duties of the commission, while Article 324A gives the status to the President to notify a class as Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC), and the Parliament is entrusted with the power to alter the central SEBC list. The court also clarified that PG medical admissions fulfilled before September 9, 2020, will be saved.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi government announced on May 31 that eligible candidates from the Maratha community can avail of benefits under the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota.
The EWS quota protects candidates who do not fall under any other quota and those whose family income is less than 8 lakh annually.
This resolution comes weeks after the Supreme Court struck down the Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) reservation for the Maratha community. The SEBC came into effect in 2018.
In January 2019, the center introduced the EWS quota, providing 10% reservation to economically weaker sections in the field of education and jobs. Maratha community candidates had started availing benefits of both SEBC and EWS quota, acting on the complaints, the state government decided those availing SEBC were not eligible for EWS. However, once the apex court stayed the Maratha quota, the state government decided that the Maratha community can avail of the EWS. The Maratha leaders opposed the move, fearing the government was nullifying the SEBC quota. Due to the opposition, the government put a hold on the decision and issued an order in December 2020 stating availing of the EWS is optional.
The Maratha Kranti Morcha (MKM) stated the state government is using the tactic to show its focus on the community. The leader Rajendra Kondhare said, “After the SC order, the community automatically is eligible for the EWS category, which is for all economically weaker sections across caste and community who are not enlisted under any other reservation.”