Revisiting the Ruling of Indra Sawhney Case


The Supreme Court is examining the constitutional validity of the Maratha reservation policy. During the hearing, it mentioned that it will re-examine the landmark verdict in the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India case 1992.

What is the Indra Sawhney Case?
  1. The Mandal Commission-
  • In 1979 the Second Backward Classes Commission was set up by the President.
  • The commission report concluded 52% of the population in India are “Socially and Economically Backward Classes (SEBCs)”. Further, the commission recommended a 27% reservation for SEBCs. This reservation is provided in addition to the previously existing 22.5% reservation for SC/STs.
  • The government accepted the recommendation and provided the 27% reservation.
  • In 1991, the government enacted provisions for the reservation of 10% of jobs for economically weaker sections (EWS) among higher caste people.
  1. Indra Sawhney vs UOI case or The Mandal case:
  • The Mandal Commission report and the government’s decision to reserve 10 percent for the EWS was challenged in the Supreme Court.
  • A nine-judge Bench gave their verdict in 1992.
  • The important intervention of the case includes,
    • First, the criterion for a group to qualify for reservation is social and educational backwardness only. So, the 10 percent reservation to the EWS becomes unconstitutional.
    • Second, a 50% limit to vertical quotas will apply to ensure efficiency in administration unless in exceptional circumstances. The court in its earlier judgments like M R Balaji v/s State of Mysore (1963) and Devadasan v/s UOI (1964) also mentioned the 50 percent reservation limit.
Why is the Supreme Court revisiting the Mandal case (Indra Sawhney Case)?
  • In 2018, the Maharastra government enacted a law to provide 16 percent reservation to the Maratha community in jobs and admissions. This violated the 50 percent ceiling mentioned by the Mandal case.
  • But, the Bombay High Court upheld the validity of the quota. But the Court reduced the Maratha reservation to 12-13% (Instead of 16%). This percent is also recommended by the State Backward Classes Commission. (Both are above 50 per cent)
  • An appeal was filed in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court during the case said that it will look into the capping of 50 per cent reservation in the Mandal case.

How does the Maratha reservation relate to the Indra Sawhney case?

The Maratha reservation law is related to the Indra Sawhney case in Many ways such as,

  1. The President power to notify backward classes
    • This power is provided by the 102nd Constitutional Amendment provided powers to the President to notify the backward classes. The Court has to find out whether States have powers to notify the backward classes or not.
  2. Validity of 103rd Amendment, 2019
    • This amendment provides for 10% reservation for the EWS in government jobs and educational institutions from the unreserved category.
    • Thus, the Marathas belong to EWS can attain benefits under the 103rd CAA. But the specific quotas to Marathas will turn into a bad example for communities asking for such reservations. For example, Patels in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh.
  3. The Breach of 50% ceiling set by Indra Sawhney Verdict
    • The Maharashtra law if enacted could make a reservation of up to 68%. Further, it can join states like Tamil Nadu, Haryana which already exceed the 50 per cent ceiling.
    • For Example– the Tamil Nadu government reserves 69% of the seats in colleges and jobs in the State government. Further, Tamil Nadu also placed its reservation law in Ninth Schedule
What is Ninth Schedule
  • It excludes the law from the jurisdiction of judicial review under Article 31 A of the Constitution.
  • Laws placed in the Ninth Schedule cannot be challenged on the ground for violating any fundamental right.
  • However, in I R Coelho v/s Tamil Nadu (2007) case the supreme court held that laws in the ninth schedule can be challenged on the ground of violation of the basic structure of the constitution.

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