The Supreme Court on March 23 2010 restored the Andhra Pradesh law providing 4% exclusive quota in jobs and educational institutions for “backward” groups among Muslims, in a development that can give a fillip to the demand for implementation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission’s recommendations for 15% quota for minorities.
The interim order revived the AP law which was struck down as unconstitutional by a 7-judge Bench of the high court on the grounds that it violated the constitutional provision forbidding faith-based quota.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and comprising Justices J M Panchal and B S Chauhan has left it to a 5-judge Constitution Bench to decide the legality of the law which has taken the total quantum of all kinds of quotas to 49% in the state. This Bench will start the scrutiny in the second week of August.
The court, however, stayed implementation of a provision of the law seen as aimed at putting the entire Muslim community, except 10 groups, under the “backward” category entitled to reservations in jobs and admissions to schools and colleges.
While nullifying endorsement of the advocacy for religion-based reservation for Muslims, the order Okays the move of the AP government to increase the number of “backward” groups among Muslims by making additions to the state’s OBC list.
The effect of the order is to extend quota benefits to 14 “backward” groups among Muslims not recognized so in the state list of OBCs before the law was enacted.
The talk of a Muslim quota had gained momentum with the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee and Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission favoring reservations for Muslims.The interim order holds significance. Arguing for the law, attorney general Goolam Vahanvati and senior counsel K Parasaran said that denying quota benefits to Muslim backwards when such benefits are available to their socially equivalent groups among Hindus would be discrimination — an argument that under girds the recommendation of the Mishra Commission that dalits among Muslims and Christians are also entitled to reservation.
The emotional argument of Vahanvati and Parasaran who defended the AP Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act, 2007 said the reservation was not meant to benefit all Muslims in the state, but only the “socially and educationally backwards” among them who have been so identified on the basis of their occupation. When barbers and washermen belonging to Hindus were included in the OBC list, why should similar groups among Muslims be not included in the list of backward classes amd reservation provided to them, they asked. The reasoning did appeal to the Bench as it allowed operation of the quota law.“If the HC verdict is allowed to be continued, then these backward class groups will be denied social affirmative action which they need. If identification in the proper sense was to be enforced, then the process could go on for 100 years and they will continue to be deprived of the quota,” SC said
Look back and forth over six years of AP.
2004: YSR govt issues order for 5% quota for Muslims in jobs and education in July. HC strikes it down in September
2005: AP categorizes all Muslims backward, issues ordinance for 5% quota, becomes an Act in Oct. HC strikes it down in Nov, calling quota on basis of religion unconstitutional
2007: State enacts Act for 4% quota to 15 backward Muslim groups in August. Month later, SC stays admissions under quota
2008: Supreme Court vacates stay,
sends case back to Andhra Pradesh High Court
2010: HC strikes down quota in Feb. On March 25, SC upholds quota, Constitutional Bench to examine issue in August SC order a boost for Bengal’s quota
Supreme Court heralds 4% reservation for Muslim backwards
- The demand for religious quota in jobs and admissions gained legitimacy on Thursday when the Supreme Court leaned in favour of an Andhra Pradesh (AP) law providing 4% quota to 14 “backward groups” within the Muslim community. The court, which passed an interim order, referred the adjudication of constitutional validity of the AP law to a Constitution Bench.
- The SC interim order, passed by a bench comprising Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and justices JM Panchal and BS Chauhan, may now open the floodgates to extending the benefits of reservation to Muslims and Dalit Christians in other states. The lack of judicial sanction has so far been cited by the Centre to stonewall demands for religion-based quota, which was recommended by the Ranganath Mishra panel.
- The AP move was earlier turned down by the state’s high court for violating the Constitution. In a majority judgment of 5:2, the high court had struck down the law arguing that it was “unsustainable” and violative of articles 14, 15(1) and 16(2) of the Constitution. While Article 14 pertains to the right to equality, Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion and caste while Article 16 is about equality of opportunity in matters of employment.
- The only categories now kept outside the quota ambit are Syeds, Pathans, Arabs and Iranis, but they account for less than 10% of Muslim population in the state. Muslims constitute 9.2% of AP’s 77 million population.
- The apex court bench was in agreement with the argument put forth by Attorney General (AG) GE Vahanvati and former AG K Parasaran that quota benefits are extended to socially and educationally backward communities on the basis of their profession and not religion.
- It would be social discrimination of the worst kind if on the one hand reservation was given to similarly situated groups within the Hindu community, but denied to those in the Muslim community, they argued. The Bench was in agreement with their position that it was not fair to exclude Muslim barber or washerman community from the quota list when the similarly placed Hindu groups were being provided with benefits of reservation.
Point to ponder….
- Is religion specified quota a violation of the Constitution.? What is the meaning of ‘poor Muslim’ quota of 4%.If it meant for the poor then why that affixture of Muslim-a religious identity?
- the Judiciary cannot become a partner to the political appeasement policy and must interpret the law according to the spirit of the Constitution. It is a travesty that such a request must come from lay persons and be addressed to the Judiciary which is the repository of the Constitution and its operation.
- The Judiciary is also aware of the appeasement policy and its nuances. It is not functioning in isolation nor is it in an ivory tower.
- So to stay the order of the High Court of AP and allow a go ahead to the quota for the ‘poor Muslims is flawed-based on a religious criterion.
- There are poor Christians, poor Jains, poor Hindus, poor Parsees, poor Buddhists et al. So why not extend the same social upliftment quota to all these categories and scrap the SCs and BCs and OBCs –caste tags.
- One cannot go by caste tags and also by religious tags. It will be the saddest day for this country if the judiciary is seen as political and biased.
- In fact the whole Muslim community sects and sub sects have been identified. Is this identification exercise pertaining to the poor or to the Muslims who are poor? That’s the catch.
- It is simply an extension of the appeasement policy of the governments both at the Centre and the States.
- It is at the cost of other poor people that this is being done for the development ‘cake’ is only one. You cannot rob poor Peter to pay poor Paul. Injustice upon injustice and that too flowing from the judiciary cannot take the country forward nor will the poverty and backwardness of the poor people disappear.
- Is it not obvious that the quota system has increased backwardness? Ever since the quota system came into the picture as a strategy of upliftment more and more people have become backward.
- Truth and Justice cannot be butchered by the Judiciary. It is accountable to ‘We the people’.
- It is not just reservation-which was envisaged by the Founding Fathers as affirmative action and with a stipulated period of 50 years.But now reservatyion has become a tool for vote garnering-all the population have come under backwardness-there are today more backward castes.
- It was primarily based on caste but if today it is used for gender and religion to net the reserved candidates then it a violation of the constitution-where does Equality’ stand?
- One cannot distinguish anyone on the basis of gender and religion.
- The Attorney General wants us to view the quota for Muslims as backwardness specific and not religion specific-then why was the word ‘Poor’ Muslim used?
- The Supreme Court’s interim order assumes significance both political and social, for the principal minority community in post-Independent India. Debate on whether Muslims as a community, or the backward classes among them, should get reservations in educational institutions and government jobs is as old as Indian Independence. Soon after Independence, Muslims were grouped along with the Scheduled Castes for the purpose of political reservations, only to be declared a “minority” community.
- It has come as a major political and electoral breather for the ruling Congress in Andhra Pradesh and the UPA at the Centre. With many political parties, including the Communists, now talking about the need for quota for Muslims, the Supreme Court’s order, though interim in nature, has boosted the chances of the minority community securing reservation in other states too.
- The Congress-led UPA, which had promised reservation for Muslims just before the general elections, may now speed up the pace towards the minority quota. The order is also a shot in the arm for the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in West Bengal, which announced 10 per cent reservation for Muslims.
- By creating the 15th group, the AP government had indirectly sought to provide reservations to almost all Muslims, while states like Kerala, Karnataka, Manipur and Tamil Nadu took enough care to exclude the forward classes in the principal minority community.
Jai Ho Hindustan.