The Bombay High Court Friday stayed the Maharashtra government's decision to provide educational and job quotas to Marathas and Muslims while allowing educational reservation for the latter.
The previous Congress-NCP government granted in July 16 percent reservation to the Maratha community and five percent to Muslims. This was approved just before the assembly elections.
Admitting a bunch of eight public interest litigation by individuals and groups challenging the reservations, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice M.S. Sonak said the Supreme Court had laid down that reservations cannot exceed 50 percent of the total seats.
Accordingly, in its interim order, the bench stayed the decision to grant job and educational quota to Marathas and allowed only educational quota for Muslims. It placed the matter for further hearing Jan 5.
With 52 percent seats in government jobs and education already reserved for various groups, the erstwhile Congress-NCP government had raised it to 73 percent, said lawyer Ashish Mehta, representing one of the petitioners, Anil Thanekar.
The court held that the comparative data provided by the government justified the move to provide reservation to Muslims in education.
The government contended that the reservations for the two communities were given as both the Marathas and Muslims were socially and academically backward and economically poor.
The decision was based on a report prepared by a committee headed by former minister Narayan Rane.
It also took into consideration the suggestions of the Rajinder Sachar Committee and the Mahmoodur Rahman Committee, both of which had recommended quotas for Muslims.
Among the petitioners were social activist Ketan Tirodkar, Anil Thanekar, Youth For Equality and Indian Health Organisation.
Some contended that two communities were not backward and some opposed reservations in both jobs and academics.
Reacting to the judgement, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the government would appeal in the Supreme Court.
"We are fully supportive of the quotas for Marathas and shall ensure it remains. If the court has pointed out any lacunae, we shall remove it in the ensuing winter session of the legislature next month," Fadnavis told the media.
The opposition, including Shiv Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, criticized the government, accusing it of not putting up its case strongly in favour of the reservations.
"The court ruling points at the failure of the new regime to protect the reservation decision," NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said.
Congress leader Narayan Rane said the quotas were introduced after taking into account all constitutional and legal aspects.
"If the state government does not move the Supreme Court, then we shall approach the apex court. How did the stay come? The state government must clarify whether it is for or against the Marathas," Rane said.
Shiv Sena's Diwakar Raote demanded an explanation from the BJP regime on what he termed was its failure to protect the Maratha quota.
"The situation now is that the reservation was brought only for Muslims. Minority Affairs Minister Eknath Khadse must clarify why the government could not convince the court on its commitment to provide the quota for Marathas," Raote said.
Lawyer Mehta said that since the next hearing is Jan 5 and the ordinance will lapse by Jan 8, the government is likely to appeal in the Supreme Court within the next three weeks.