The Supreme Court Wednesday refused to stay the Bombay High Court order upholding a Maharashtra law granting reservation to Marathas in education and jobs.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta said the matter has been pending for long and required detailed hearing.
It fixed March 17 to hear at length a batch of pleas filed for and against the Maratha quota.
"We are fixing the date of March 17, so that the issue can be heard at length. We are also making it clear that no adjournments will be granted. All replies and counter replies to be filed before the next date of hearing," the bench said.
At the outset, senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for some of the petitioners challenging the quota for Marathas, said the state cannot grant such reservation beyond the set limit.
He sought a stay of the Bombay High Court order which upheld the state law granting quota to Marathas with some modifications.
The bench said Wednesday it will not hear the matter on merits and to grant any interim reliefs, it needs to hear the pleas at length.
It said there is already an interim order passed by the apex court that any appointments made will be subject to the outcome of the batch of petitions.
The apex court had on July 12, 2019, decided to examine the constitutional validity of a Maharashtra law granting reservation for Marathas in education and jobs, but refused to stay the Bombay High Court order upholding the statute with some modifications.
The apex court said however that the aspect of the HC verdict allowing the quota with a retrospective effect, from 2014, would not be made operational.
"We make it clear that the order of the High Court on reservation will not have retrospective effect," the apex court had said when one of the lawyers alleged that the state government has passed an order applying the quota to nearly 70,000 vacancies with effect from 2014.
The Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 was enacted to grant reservation to the Maratha community people in jobs and admissions.
The high court held that 16 per cent reservation was not justifiable and ruled that quota should not exceed 12 per cent in employment and 13 per cent in admissions.
The bench was hearing five petitions including those filed by J Laxman Rao Patil and lawyer Sanjeet Shukla challenging the high court order which upheld the constitutional validity of the quota.
The Bombay High Court, in its June 27, 2019, order, had said the 50-per cent cap on total reservations imposed by the Supreme Court could be exceeded in exceptional circumstances.
It had also accepted the Maharashtra government's argument that the Maratha community was socially and educationally backward, and it was duty-bound to take steps for its progress.
The high court had said though the reservation was valid, its quantum -- 16 per cent -- was not justifiable and it should be reduced to 12 per cent and 13 per cent, as recommended by the State Backward Classes Commission.
Shukla, a representative of 'Youth for Equality', in his petition, said the SEBC Act breached the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation fixed by the apex court in its landmark judgment in the Indira Sahwney case, also known as the 'Mandal verdict'.
The framing of the SEBC Act for Marathas was done under "political pressure" and in "full defiance" of the constitutional principles of equality and rule of law, the plea said.
"The high court erred in concluding that the mere fact that other OBCs would have to share their reservation quotas with the Marathas (if the Marathas were simply included in the existing OBC category) constitutes an exceptional circumstance warranting a breach of the 50 per cent ceiling limit set by Indira Sawhney," it said.
It said the high court's order upheld a 65-per cent reservation in Maharashtra (there being no community hailing from far-flung or remote areas), which was contrary to the nine-judge bench decision of the Supreme Court in the Mandal case.
According to the 102nd amendment to the Constitution, reservation can be granted only if a particular community is named in the list prepared by the President.
On November 30, 2018, the Maharashtra legislature passed a bill granting the 16-per cent reservation to Marathas.
The community, which accounts for roughly a third of Maharashtra's population, is politically dominant.
The report submitted by the State Backward Classes Commission was based on quantifiable and contemporaneous data and was correct in classifying the Maratha community as socially and educationally backward, the high court had said in its verdict.