The beneficiaries can avail the quota for admission to central institutions and Central government jobs.
A five-judge constitution bench of Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, S Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi and JB Pardiwala, in a 3-2 verdict, held that the provisions of the concerned amendment is not in violation of the Constitution.
At the outset, Chief Justice U U Lalit said there are four different judgements on pleas challenging the EWS quota.
Reading out the verdict, Justice Maheshwari said that 103rd Constitutional amendment is valid and does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution.
Justice Trivedi said that there is a need to revisit the reservation policy and it should have a time span. Justice Pardiwala, while holding the amendment valid, observed that reservation cannot go on indefinitely and agreed with Justice Trivedi on a need to re-examine the reservation policy.
However, Justice Bhatt disagreed with the majority verdict and said leaving out the poor from SCs/STs/ OBCs from availing the reservation benefit under EWS category is discriminatory.
CJI UU Lalit, the last to speak, also dissented on the majority verdict while agreeing with Justice Bhatt.
The 103rd Constitution Amendment Bill was passed by Parliament in January 2019.
The BJP lauded the SC verdict and said it is a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his “mission” to provide social justice to the country’s poor.
Party general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh in his reaction said, “Another big credit for PM Narendra Modi’s vision of Gareeb Kalyan. A big boost in the direction of social justice .”
While delivering the verdict on the validity of EWS quota, the SC bench had considered three broad questions:
Is quota based on economic criteria valid?
The Constitution does not talk about the concept of preferential treatment on the basis of a person’s economic status. The bench therefore mulled on:
- Is reservation based on economic criteria is permitted by the Constitution?
- Will it go against basic structure of Constitution, if allowed?
Is 103rd Amendment a breach on Constutuion?
- The court examined possible breach of Constitution by the 103rd Amendment from two aspects:
- Permitting the state to make special provisions in relation to admission to private unaided institutions
Excluding SEBCs (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes)/OBCs (Other Backward Classes)/SCs(Scheduled Casts)/STs (Scheduled Tribes) from the scope of EWS reservation.
The 50% quota cap issue
The bench also considered if the 50% cap on reservation as fixed by it in the Indra Sawhney judgment is inviolable and cannot be breached.
The Centre’s contention
- Granting of 10% quota to the poor section will not impact other categories
- It has approved creation of more than 2.1 lakh seats in central educational institutions to ensure that EWS quota didn’t impact SC/STs and OBCs
- 103rd Amendment strengthened the basic structure of the Constitution by ensuring economic justice to its citizens
- Upper limit on quota is not a “golden inviolable rule”
What petitions challenging EWS quota said
- Economic criteria could not be a basis for granting reservation
- Granting quota to the forward class is a “fraud on the constitution” and amounted to stabbing its heart
What is the 103rd Amendment
- The Bill was introduced in Parliament in January 2019, and subsequntly passed by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha before getting the presidential assent.
- It introduces 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) for admission to Centre-run as well as private educational institutions (except for minority educational institutions)
- It also provides for similar reservations for employment in Central Government jobs
- Such reservations not mandatory in state govt-run institutions or state government jobs
- Some states have voluntarily chosen to implement similar reservations
Who can avail EWS quota benefits
- Persons with an annual gross household income of up to Rs 8 lakh
- Excluded: Families owning over 5 acres of agricultural land, a house over 1,000 square feet, a plot of over 100-yards in a notified municipal area or over a 200-yards plot in a non-notified municipal area
- Communities that already have reservations such as SCs, STs and the “non creamy layer” of OBCs