The Supreme Court on Thursday said it would hear on April 8 a batch of petitions challenging the Centre's decision to grant 10 per cent reservation in jobs as well as admissions to educational institutions to economically weaker sections across all classes. A bench comprising Justices SA Bobde and SA Nazeer said it would also deal with the contentions raised by some of the petitioners who have said that the matter was required to be adjudicated upon by a constitution bench.
At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, sought an adjournment saying he and Attorney General K K Venugopal were appearing in a matter on Thursday before a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. "I am on my legs before the constitution bench. Please accommodate me," he told the bench.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for one of the petitioners, referred to the top court's last order passed in the matter on March 11 and said the issue of whether these pleas should be referred to a Constitution bench should be considered. "If the matter is to go before a Constitution bench, then ad-hoc adjournment cannot come in the way," he said, adding, "You (bench) have to consider if this matter needs to go before a Constitution bench since it attacks the basic structure".
To this, Mehta said, "On this (issue of whether to refer the matter to a Constitution bench), the Attorney General has to say something." He said these pleas have been "suddenly listed" before a new bench and the Attorney General was appearing in a Constitution bench matter today in the CJI's court. "We would like to give an opportunity to them (Centre) and the Attorney General," the bench told the counsel appearing for the petitioners.
Dhavan said the Railways is going to hold recruitment with 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections as per the 103rd amendment. The bench orally observed that it would be subject to its final orders in the matter. Referring to the nine-judge bench decision of the top court in the landmark 1992 Indira Sawhney case, Dhavan said a reservation is to be based on the concept of discrimination.
The top court allowed a separate plea filed by the Centre which has sought a stay on proceedings initiated in the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the government's decision to grant 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections in jobs and education.
On March 11, the top court had said it was not in favour of passing order at this stage to refer the petitions to a constitution bench. The court had said it will consider on March 28 whether the matter is required to be referred to a constitution bench.
The top court had earlier refused to stay the Centre's decision to grant 10 per cent quota in jobs and admissions to poor candidates in the general category. However, the court had agreed to examine the validity of the law and issued a notice to the Centre on the pleas.
Petitions have been filed by parties, including 'Janhit Abhiyan' and NGO 'Youth For Equality', challenging the Centre's decision. One of the petitioners has sought quashing of the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019, saying economic criterion cannot be the sole basis for reservation.
The petitioner has said the bill violates the basic feature of the Constitution as a reservation on economic grounds cannot be limited to the general category and the overall 50 per cent ceiling limit cannot be breached. The Centre has come out with the Constitutional amendment bill giving quota benefits to the poor among general category candidates.
The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha cleared the bill on January 8 and 9 respectively, and it has been signed by President Ram Nath Kovind. The quota will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.