New Delhi: The Supreme Court has scrapped a year-old notification by the then-ruling Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) granting the status of a backward class to the Jat community.

The move could have social and political consequences, analysts said, and the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government could file a review petition.

At stake are reservations for central government jobs, admission to central government-run educational institutions, and other benefits.

Jats form an assertive political bloc in the states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and have been the focus of poll promises and government policies in these states. Last year, the BJP, which gained support from the Jat community, swept the Lok Sabha elections in all the four states in May en route to its march to power in New Delhi. It also formed its first government in Haryana in October. In 2013, the party was voted back to power in Rajasthan.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed the March 2014 notification that brought the Jats under the central list of so-called other backward classes (OBCs) in Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, Bharatpur and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Tuesday’s judgment will not have any bearing in the inclusion of the community in OBC lists notified by states. Except Gujarat, Jats are included in the list of OBCs in all the states mentioned above.

Ajit Singh, chief of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and a prominent Jat leader, recently met senior ministers of the government to ensure that Jats continue to get OBC status. “We are consulting lawyers on the judgement and if there is a need we will ask the government to file a review petition," said Jayant Chaudhary, Singh’s son.

The BJP had supported the UPA’s decision to grant OBC status to Jats. “This decision will cause resentment against the BJP. In the run up to the general elections, several strong Jat leaders joined the BJP, especially in Haryana, and it is natural that the Jat community will expect such leaders and the party itself to seek a legal solution to the issue," said Kushal Pal, an associate professor and head of the political science department at Dyal Singh College in Karnal, Haryana. “The decision could revive the agitation for reservation on the ground."

A bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton F. Nariman said on Tuesday that the crucial test of social backwardness for determining the entitlement of the “politically organized" Jats for inclusion in the concurrent list was not met in the case since the data relied upon by the government was outdated. The apex court has also held that the government should not have rejected the recommendation of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) that the Jats not be given OBC status.

The commission rejected claims that Jats were inadequately represented in government jobs, and found that they were adequately represented in the armed forces, government services and educational institutions. It said that the community was neither educationally nor socially backward.

“Once we receive the complete order of the Supreme Court, our legal experts will examine it and proceed accordingly", Amarinder Singh, the Congress’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha and president of the All India Jat Maha Sabha, said in a statement. Singh added that the organization would seek legal counsel and even consider filing a review petition.

Discouraging caste-based reservations, the court said that “social groups who would be most deserving must necessarily be a matter of continuous evolution. New practices, methods and yardsticks have to be continuously evolved moving away from a caste-centric definition of backwardness. This alone can enable recognition of newly emerging groups in society which would require palliative action". Reminding the state of the “high degree of vigilance it must exercise to discover emerging forms of backwardness", the court said that “an affirmative action policy that keeps in mind only historical injustice would certainly result in under-protection of the most deserving backward class of citizens".

“It is the identification of these new emerging groups that must engage the attention of the state and the constitutional power and duty must be concentrated to discover such groups rather than to enable groups of citizens to recover ‘lost ground’ in claiming preference and benefits on the basis of historical prejudice", the judgment said.

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