New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday in an interim measure upheld the constitutional validity of 4% reservation provided to socially and economically backward Muslims in Andhra Pradesh.
Though Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have announced reservations for socially and educationally backward Muslims, it is the first time the apex court has upheld the validity of religion-based reservation.
The ruling in effect has stayed the seven-judge Andhra Pradesh high court judgement of 8 February, which struck down a state law providing 4% reservation in educational institutions and jobs to 15 groups belonging to the Muslim community. The high court had found the law unconstitutional and violative of the right to equality.
The state had filed a special appeal in the apex court on 26 February against the high court judgement.
As religion-based reservation involves an important question of law, the apex court bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan has referred the matter to be heard in August by a five-judge constitutional bench.
Andhra Pradesh had provided for reservation on the basis of a report by the Andhra Pradesh Commission for Backward Classes (APBC), which had recommended that socially and educationally backward Muslims be adequately represented in the state.
Harish Salve, senior advocate and counsel for parties opposing the reservation, argued in the apex court that the Congress-led Andhra Pradesh government had failed to spell out proper and relevant criteria for identification of socially and educationally backward Muslims in the state.
G.E. Vahanvati, attorney general of India, said the identification of the 15 Muslim groups was done on a scientific basis.
After the Thursday ruling, Andhra Pradesh chief minister K. Rosaiah told the state legislative assembly that the government would take all legal steps to implement the 4% reservation in jobs and education to backward class Muslims.
Opposition parties Telugu Desam Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist) favour a 10% quotas for Muslims as recommended by the Sachar and Ranganath Mishra panels.
The president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Andhra Pradesh unit, G. Kishan Reddy, opposed religion-based reservations, saying it would encourage conversions and lead to clashes between Muslims and backward classes.
“Our party is against any kind of reservation on the basis of religion. I do not wish to comment on judicial decisions but it is against the basic spirit of the Indian Constitution and our party would continue its strive against any such move,” said Tarun Vijay, a BJP spokesperson.
Andhra Pradesh’s minority welfare minister Mohammad Ahmadulla Syed said the 4% reservations “are not based on religion but are meant for backward classes in Muslims”.
Based on the recommendations of APBC, the state government in 2005 issued an ordinance and passed legislation for 5% reservation for 15 backward groups of Muslims.
The Andhra Pradesh high court quashed the legislation, saying that it would exceed the 50% total reservation limit set by the Supreme Court.
Taking this into account and to keep the reservations within the 50% limit, the state government reduced the quantum of quota to 4% and passed a new law in July 2007.
Fizoz Bakht Ahmed, a scholar, calling the reservation policy a piecemeal and divisive measure, said there had to be a change in the mindset of Muslims towards education.