Examine the issue of reservations for the Maratha community in the light of observations made by the Bombay High Court.

The Bombay High Court has upheld the validity of the Maharashtra government’s decision to provide reservation to the Maratha community under the socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act.

Demand for Reservation

Politically dominant Marathas make up about one-third of the population of the state of Maharashtra. Marathas are originally a warrior caste with large land-holdings. The division of land and agrarian problems over the years has led to a decline of prosperity among middle class and lower middle class Marathas.

The demand of reservations for the community was first mooted in 1980s. Over the years there were agitations to push the government to give in to their demand. The government of Maharashtra in 2014 brought in an ordinance for 16 per cent Maratha quota which failed the legal test. Subsequent after elections the new government came out with an Act to provide reservation for the community but even this proposal did not stand the scrutiny of the court.

After a large scale agitation the government of Maharashtra in November 2018 brought in Maharashtra State Reservations (of seats for admissions in educational institutions in the state and for appointments in the public service and posts under the state) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act 2018 to provide 16 per cent reservation in education and government jobs for the community.

The legal validity of the act was questioned in the Bombay High Court since the act violated Supreme Court’s reservation cap of 50 per cent.

Observations made by the Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court upheld the legal validity of the act which provided the reservation quota for Marathas. The High Court took into consideration the findings of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) which had said that Maratha community is socially, economically and educationally backward and 37.28 per cent of Marathas were living below the poverty line.

The High Court said that it was aware of SC’s 50 per cent cap, however, in exceptional circumstances, the ceiling can be exceeded. From the findings of the MSBCC, the Marathas reservation can be inferred as an exceptional circumstance. But the 16 per cent reservation is not justifiable and reservation should not exceed 13 per cent in employment and 12 per cent in education.

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