Supreme Court, in a majority verdict, upholds constitutional validity of EWS quota

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Supreme Court, in a majority verdict, upholds constitutional validity of EWS quotaSource: The post is based on the following articles:

 “Supreme Court, in a majority verdict, upholds constitutional validity of EWS quota” published in The Hindu on 8th November 2022. 

“Reservation policy cannot stay for indefinite period, says Supreme Court” published in The Hindu on 8th November 2022. 

“Explainer: Why EWS quota became such a tangled legal debate” published in The Times of India on 8th November 2022. 

What is the News?

The Supreme Court Constitution Bench has by 3:2 majority upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment which introduced a 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in education and public employment.

What is the 103rd Constitutional Amendment (EWS Quota)?

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What were the main legal challenges before the Supreme Court on EWS Quota?

There were three main legal challenges in this case:

First: Whether the 103rd Constitution Amendment is violative of the basic structure for providing reservation solely on the basis of economic criteria. 

Second: Whether the amendment is violative of the basic structure for excluding the poor among the SC/ST/OBC categories from EWS Quota. 

Third: Whether the amendment is violative of the basic structure for breaching the 50% ceiling limit.

What were the majority judges’ views on EWS Quota?

The majority of judges upheld the EWS Quota on the following grounds: 

EWS Quota
Source: SCO Observer

Reservation is an affirmative action measure not only for socially and economically backward classes but for any disadvantaged section. Therefore, reservation solely on an economic basis does not violate the constitution.

Exclusion of SC/ST and OBCs from EWS reservations is constitutionally valid.

Quotas for SC, ST, OBCs are limited to 50% and here 10% was being reserved for EWS without impacting the reservations granted to the three other groups. The 50% ceiling limit itself is flexible and only applies to caste-based reservations. The court held that 50% cap can be breached under “extraordinary” situations. 

EWS quota is not a completely alien concept. It is in the Right to Education Act 2009.

What were the minority judges’ views on EWS Quota?

The minority judges have struck down EWS Quota on the following grounds:

-Reservation under Articles 15 and 16 is meant for rectifying the under-representation of socially and educationally backward classes, SCs and STs. Not as a tool for financial upliftment.

The total and absolute exclusion of constitutionally recognised backward classes of citizens and SC and ST communities is nothing but discrimination which undermines the equality code.

Permitting a breach of 50% would result in compartmentalisation and the rule of the right to equality will become the right to reservations.

Article 46’s ambit of promoting educational and economic interests of SCs, STs and other weaker sections and protecting them from social injustice implies that they can’t be excluded from the EWS quota.

-Other affirmative actions like scholarships, interest-free loans, etc. , exist, which can assuage problems of the economically weaker sections. Reservation wasn’t meant for groups not historically disadvantaged.

What were the judges’ views on the policy of Reservation?

The policy of reservation in education and employment cannot continue for an indefinite period.

The reservation policy must have a time span. At the end of 75 years of Independence, India need to revisit the system of reservation in the larger interest of the society as a whole, as a step forward towards transformative constitutionalism.

For instance, quota for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the House of the People and in State Legislative Assemblies would cease 80 years from the commencement of the Constitution. 

The representation of Anglo-Indian communities in Parliament and Assemblies has already stopped by virtue of the 104th Constitutional Amendment from2020.

Therefore, a similar time limit for a reservation could be a way forward leading to an egalitarian, casteless and classless society.

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