The implications of Maratha judgment on Tamil Nadu's reservation policy

Though the verdict may not have a direct impact on Tamil Nadu reservations, it may affect the Economically Weaker Sections quota if it goes above and beyond 50%.
 A stylised image of the Supreme Court next to a map of Tamil Nadu
A stylised image of the Supreme Court next to a map of Tamil Nadu

The Supreme Court earlier this month struck down the Maharashtra law granting quota to Marathas in admissions and government jobs, terming it as "unconstitutional" and held there were no exceptional circumstances to breach the 50 per cent reservation cap set by the 1992 Mandal verdict. The court added that the appointments made in government jobs and admissions in post graduate courses through the quota will not be affected. The top court also unanimously refused to refer the Mandal judgement to a larger bench for reconsideration on issues including permitting the state to breach the 50 per cent ceiling on quota in extraordinary circumstances. 

So what does this mean for states that already have over 50 percent reservation? Currently, the state of Tamil Nadu has 69 percent reservation — 26.5 percent for Backward Classes, 20 per cent for Most Backward Classes/Denotified Communities, 3.5 percent for BC Muslims, 18 per cent for Scheduled Castes and 1 percent for Scheduled Tribes. So will the Maratha judgement have an implication on the reservation policy in Tamil Nadu? 

Lawyer and DMK spokesperson A Saravanan says that this verdict will have no implication on the Tamil Nadu reservations because the 69% reservation is now part of the Constitution. 

"The Maratha judgment will not affect the reservations in Tamil Nadu. Because the Maratha reservation is fundamentally different from the 69% reservation, as the latter has gained the nod of the President and has been added to the 9th Schedule of the Constitution. So it cannot be assailed, whether it is Constitutionally proper or not. That is the position as of now. We need not be concerned with it,” says A Saravanan. The Ninth Schedule of the Constitution ensures that the law cannot be challenged in any court. 

Retired judge of the Madras High Court Justice K Chandru tells TNM that the Maratha quota judgment, which was delivered with a 3:2 majority, may not have an impact on the Tamil Nadu quota unless the issue is referred to a larger bench. “Since the Mandal judgment was delivered by a nine-judge bench, all pending reservation matters must go before an 11-judge bench, preferably,” he says. 

The only quota that the Maratha judgment may affect is the 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections, as that may go above and beyond the 50% reservation. The Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019 that introduced the EWS reservation of up to 10% for “economically weaker sections” in educational institutions and public employment, states that it will be in addition to the existing reservation. Tamil Nadu is one of the states in India that have chosen to not implement the 10% EWS quota in state government institutions of higher education and jobs, as that would lead to 79% reservation.

“The 50% cap has to go, because the 103rd Constitution Amendment has brought in the 10% quota for the EWS, thereby tilting the apple cart. Moreover, the Mandal decision itself has said that in extraordinary circumstances, there can be a waiver,” Justice Chandru says. The 103rd Constitutional Amendment provides for 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the Economically Weaker Section in the unreserved category by amending Article 15 and 16 to provide for reservation based on economic backwardness.

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