New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday once again refused to stay an Andhra Pradesh (AP) high court order quashing the 4.5% sub-quota the Centre sought to carve out for religious minorities in the 27% reservation for the so-called other backward classes (OBCs), dashing the hopes of some 300 students who had been eyeing it as a route for admission to the elite Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
A bench comprising justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and J.S. Khehar questioned the constitutional and statutory validity of the government decision to create a minority sub-quota within the existing reservation. They also questioned why government did not consult the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) in determining the sub-quota .
“We are asking whether 4.5% sub-quota has got constitutional or statutory support or not,” the bench said. “The second question is whether the office memorandum has constitutional and statutory support or not.”
The government had notified the office memorandum on 22 December 2011, seeking to carve out the sub-quota for government jobs and admissions to educational institutions. It was struck down by the Andhra high court on 28 May. The union government then approached the Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to stay the high court order and asked the government to submit to it documents supporting the sub-quota.
“We are not inclined to grant stay,” the bench said on Wednesday. However, the apex court issued notices to the petitioner on whose public interest litigation the Andhra high court had quashed the sub-quota.
Additional solicitor general Gourab Banerji tried to convince the court, saying the admission of 325 students, who have been selected by IITs under the sub-quota, was hanging in the balance. The bench took the view that carving out the sub-quota might have a bearing on the OBCs.
The joint entrance examination committee (JEE) of IITs said: “In the absence of any further legal development from human resources development ministry before 13 June, 2012, the judgement of the Andhra Pradesh high court will be implemented by ignoring the provision for reservation of 4.5% seats and by converting seats meant for OBC(NCL)-minority community to OBC(NCL) category.” NCL is short for the so-called non-creamy layer or economically under-privileged.
An IIT Delhi professor, who wanted not to be identified, said after the SC observation, it now looks difficult for the minority quota students to gain admission to the engineering and technology schools. “As per the government directive, we have done our due diligence while preparing the (student) ranking last month. Now IITs will follow judicial intervention.”
The Union cabinet had taken the decision to carve out a sub-quota for minorities within the OBC quota ahead of the announcement of elections in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims have considerable influence in shaping the electoral prospects of all parties.
Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) are notified as minority communities under Section 2 (c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
The Centre has submitted documents, including reports by commissions that dealt with reservations for OBCs and the status of religious and linguistic minorities in India, and an IIT-JEE notification citing the Andhra Pradesh high court order and advising students to apply for admission in line with that order by 13 June disregarding the earlier announcement of the 4.5% sub-quota.
The apex court on Wednesday said that the Centre should have produced the commissions’ reports in the Andhra Pradesh high court.
Banerji said religious minorities such as Buddhists and Zoroastrians were not covered by the 4.5% sub-quota.
He said although the OBCs among the religious minorities are covered under the 27% OBC quota, the 4.5% sub-quota is meant for Muslims or converts to Christianity. Banerji said the 4.5% sub-quota was aimed at benefiting socially and educationally backward candidates belonging to these groups. At this, the bench said: “That is the difficulty and that is the point. We can understand if it is across the board. How have you made the calculation?”
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blamed the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for the situation.
“We demand that the Congress party apologize to the people of India for the way they have played communal politics in the name of appeasing minorities just so they can win votes and get to power,” the BJP said in a statement.
PTI contributed to this report.