The issue of reservations, all reservations, in institutes of higher learning will now be decided by the Supreme Court. A two-judge bench of the court said this Wednesday, while hearing a case related to the government’s proposed 27% reservation for other backward classes or OBCs.
The court’s final decision won’t just throw some clarity on the admissions process in institutes of higher education need to follow, but could resolve an issue that has divided the country along caste lines.
Centrally funded colleges in India reserve 22.5% seats for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
The government wanted to extend the caste-based reservations to other backward classes with a 27% seat quota from the academic session which starts June but was thwarted by a stay order from the court.
“(The way we see it), you have four arguments. Is reservation the only mode for affirmative action? If yes, is caste the main criterion or is it economic (status)? How long will reservations go on? And, the slippery creamy layer (rich OBCs who don’t really need reservation),” Justice Arijit Pasayat told lawyers who were arguing the case on behalf of anti-quota petitioners.
Justices Pasayat and L.S. Panta, who ordered the stay on the OBC quota on March 29, asked the petitioners as well as the respondent (the government) to come back with a final set of arguments. The bench held back anyruling.
“Most petititons have said that the present policy of reservations per se needs a second look,” said Raghavendra Srivatsa, a lawyer who appeared in court on behalf of Citizens for Equality, a forum formed by the faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
The petitioners have challenged the validity of the 93rd amendment to the Constitution of India which gives the government legal sanction to reserve seats for socially backward people in centrally controlled colleges such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management.
Before this amendment, the government had reserved seats on the basis of executive action (government orders).
Because the case involves matters of constitutional law, it is widely expected that the two-judge bench will refer the case to a constitutional bench which comprises five or more judges.