The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay the Modi government's decision to grant 10 per cent reservation to economically poor in the general category but agreed to examine the validity of the constitutional amendment which paved the way for this quota.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna issued a notice to the government on a batch of petitions challenging the validity of the Constitution (103 Amendment) Act, 2019 which allows grant of quota in jobs and education to the poor in the general category.
"We will examine the matter. Issue notice," the bench said, making it clear that there would be no stay on the decision.
The top court asked the Centre to file its response within three weeks.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the pleas did not deserve a hearing and vehemently argued that there should not be any stay on the Centre's decision.
The bench said it has merely issued the notice.
When some lawyers started arguing simultaneously, the bench said, "Don't come to this court to create trouble. Call the next case."
The bench was hearing petitions filed by parties including organisations like 'Janhit Abhiyan' and NGO 'Youth For Equality' challenging the Centre's decision.
In poll year, the Modi government has come out with the constitutional amendment bill giving quota benefits to the poor among general category candidates.
The petition, filed by Youth For Equality through its president Kaushal Kant Mishra, has sought the quashing of the bill saying that the economic criterion cannot be the sole basis for reservation.
The plea has said the bill violates basic feature of the Constitution as reservation on economic grounds cannot be limited to the general categories and the overall 50 per cent ceiling limit cannot be breached.
In the present form, the upper limit of quota goes up to 60 per cent which violated the decisions of the apex court.
Referring to the nine-judge bench decision of the apex court in the landmark 1992 Indira Sawhney case, the petition said the latest amendment completely violated the Constitutional norm that economic criterion cannot be the only basis of reservation.
"Such an amendment is hence vulnerable and ought to be struck down as it merely negates a binding judgment," it said.
It also said that the amendments fail to consider that Articles 14 and 16 form the basic feature of equality, and that they have been violated with the doing away of the restraints that were imposed on the reservation policy, i.e. the 50 per cent ceiling limit and the exclusion of economic status as a sole criterion.
"The Constitution amendment completely violates the Constitutional norm that economic criterion cannot be the only basis of reservation as has been laid down by the 9 judges in Indira Sawhney, without removing the basis of the judgment," the petition said.
"By way of the present amendments, the exclusion of the OBCs and the SCs/STs from the scope of the economic reservation essentially implies that only those who are poor from the general categories would avail the benefits of the quotas.
"Taken together with the fact that the high creamy layer limit of Rs 8 lakh per annum ensures that the elite in the OBCs and SCs/STs capture the reservation benefits repeatedly, the poor sections of these categories remain completely deprived.
“This is an overwhelming violation of the basic feature of equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution and elsewhere," it said.
Later in a press release, the organisation said in principle it's a welcome step and that deprivation and not the caste has been made the basis of protective discrimination.
"However, the limit of total reservation is increased to 60 per cent. This will open a pandora's box. Now more and more political parties/caste groups will claim for increased percentage of reservations, both at the Centre and state level," it said.
A similar plea has been filed by businessman Tehseen Poonawalla seeking to quash the bill, saying that backwardness for the purpose of reservation cannot be defined by ‘economic status alone’.
The plea of Poonawala, however, was not listed for hearing on Friday.
The quota will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation to SCs, STs and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha cleared the Bill on January 8 and 9 respectively, and has been signed by President Ram Nath Kovind.