Reservation scrum

Second Edit

The supreme court’s order on the reservation regimes in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka which provide a quota of 69 per cent and 73 per cent in employment and education dilutes its verdict in the Indra Sawhney case of 1992 that had limited reservations to 50 per cent of available seats. The court had in subsequent rulings also stuck to its 50 per cent bench mark. The latest order has not superseded the earlier stipulation and the court has even made it clear that it was not expressing any opinion on the validity of the laws of the two states when it allowed continuation of Tamil Nadu’s reservation scheme for one more year and asked Karnataka to re-examine its law. But the court’s stance indicates a willingness to review the 50 per cent cap in cases where the states are able to make a case for a higher reservation percentage.

This is certain to revive the controversy over the scope and limits of reservation. The court has told the state governments to place quantifiable data about their OBC populations before backward class commissions to justify their case. This implies that it might accept the states’ reservation schemes and relax the 50 per cent limit, if they can back their position with figures about the size of the OBC population. It has been Tamil Nadu’s contention that its 69 per cent reservation was necessary because the state had about 88 per cent SC, ST and backward class population. The state had also placed its reservation law in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution to make it immune to judicial scrutiny. This, however, seems to be irrelevant as the court was willing to consider its case on the basis of its claim of special circumstances. It has told the state backward classes commission that while reviewing the quantum of reservations it could take into consideration these circumstances based on local conditions.

A relaxation in the 50 per cent ceiling might open a Pandora’s box, with competing demands from many states to increase the reservation percentage. If the ideas of proportional reservation and special circumstances are accepted, Tamil Nadu might even effect an increase in its reservation limit to 88 per cent. Political parties are always amenable to demands from more and more castes for inclusion in the categories eligible for reservation. This might lead to a progressive shrinking of opportunities for those from the general category.

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