Bihar's Battle Over 75% Reservation and the Legal Landscape of Caste-based Policies in India

The intriguing aspect lies in anticipating the court's stance on this decisive move by the state government. As the case unfolds, the courtroom debates promises to offer insights into the delicate balance between social justice imperatives and constitutional principles.
75% Reservation in Bihar
75% Reservation in BiharGraphic- The Mooknayak

The Bihar state government's decision to raise the reservation limit to 75 percent has sparked controversy and legal challenges. The move, based on the caste census, has been met with opposition, notably by civil society members Gaurav Kumar and Naman Shrestha, who argue that the justifications provided for this increase lack logical coherence. The matter is currently before the Patna High Court, where the constitutional validity of the decision is being examined.

Sanjeev Chandan, an astute observer of Bihar politics, notes that the legal landscape is likely to be shaped by historical precedents. In a conversation with The Mooknayak, he highlights the judicial history of reservation issues, citing the introduction of Affirmative Action by the Government of India, which faced initial court resistance until the 9th schedule, making it immune to judicial review, was added through constitutional amendments.

In Bihar's case, the government, led by Nitish Kumar, anticipates potential legal challenges and has proposed placing the decision of 75% reservation in the 9th Schedule to shield it from judicial review. Chandan draws attention to the court's inconsistency in addressing violations of the 50% cap, such as in the case of upper caste reservation (EWS). This variability in court decisions provides room for the Bihar government to argue against potential challenges.

During the winter session of the Legislature, the Bihar government swiftly implemented the increased reservation through legislative measures, securing the Governor's approval. The new reservation structure allocates 10 percent for the general category based on economic criteria and raises the overall quota to 75 percent, with specific allocations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward classes, extremely backward classes, and the general category. As the legal battle unfolds, the fate of Bihar's expanded reservation policy remains uncertain, hinging on how the courts interpret and apply constitutional principles in this context.

RJD spokesperson and National General Secretary of the Women's Cell, Priyanka Bharti, offers a robust defense of the Bihar government's decision to increase the reservation limit to 75 percent in an exclusive interview with The Mooknayak. Bharti vehemently rejects the legitimacy of the petition filed by individuals from civil society challenging the reservation limit, suggesting that they may be acting as agents sent by the BJP to obstruct the achievement of social justice in Bihar.

In her impassioned remarks, Bharti questions the motives of those opposing the increased reservation, asserting that the deprived sections, who have long been denied their rights and representation, are finally receiving their due share. She expresses disbelief that individuals from civil society would oppose such a move and implies that they might be influenced by ulterior motives. Bharti contends that the reservation policy aims to rectify historical injustices faced by marginalized communities.

Addressing the specifics of the petition, Bharti notes that the petitioners are challenging the 65% reservation, particularly questioning how it has been increased by such a significant margin. She points out that the petitioners have not raised concerns about the additional 10% for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).

Bharti draws attention to the precedent set by Tamil Nadu, which already has 69% reservation, suggesting that the argument against breaking the 50% cap is not unprecedented. She emphasizes the need to focus on the quality of representation rather than just the numbers, pointing out the negligible representation of OBCs, SCs, and STs in government jobs relative to their population.

Former MP and President of Unorganized Workers and Employees Congress (KKC), Dr. Udit Raj, provides a comprehensive perspective on the issue of increasing the reservation limit to 75 percent in Bihar in an interview with The Mooknayak. Dr. Udit Raj underscores the importance of inclusive administration, stating that a diverse workforce is essential for the equitable distribution of resources and the generation of income. According to him, this inclusivity not only contributes to economic strength but also fosters societal balance by eliminating social discrimination between weaker and more privileged sections.

Dr. Udit Raj lauds the initiative taken by the Bihar government, asserting that a representative administration ensures the delivery of justice and facilitates the election of the best public representatives. However, he alleges indirect opposition from the BJP, suggesting that their hindrance to the caste census and their lack of enthusiasm for the reservation increase are indicative of their underlying anti-reservation stance. Dr. Udit Raj argues that the BJP's Hindutva agenda may be conflicting with the inclusive measures taken by the Bihar government.

The political landscape surrounding the issue becomes more complex as JDU President Rajeev Ranjan Singh 'Lalan' implicates the BJP in the petition filed against the reservation increase in the Patna High Court. Lalan alleges that the BJP, historically anti-reservation, may be orchestrating challenges to the recent quota enhancements. He points out previous instances where the BJP allegedly attempted to obstruct reserved seats in local body elections and hinder the caste survey ordered by the Nitish Kumar government.

In response to these accusations, senior BJP leader and former Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi dismisses the PIL against the quota hike as a ploy by the ruling grand alliance in the state to defame his party. Modi highlights the BJP's historical involvement in introducing OBC quota in Bihar in the 1970s and credits the Narendra Modi government for laying the groundwork by introducing the 10 percent EWS quota. He contends that without this central initiative, the Bihar government's increase in reservations for SC, ST, OBC, and EBC would not have been possible, especially given the 50 percent limit placed by the Supreme Court.

Constitutional Scrutiny: Factors Influencing the Decision on Bihar's 75% Reservation Quota

The constitutional position regarding the Bihar government's decision to increase the reservation quota to 75% involves a nuanced analysis of several factors. The matter is currently under scrutiny in court, and the final decision will likely hinge on various considerations:

  1. 50% Cap on Caste-Based Reservation: The Supreme Court has historically imposed a 50% cap on caste-based reservations in educational institutions and government jobs. This cap is intended to balance the interests of the reserved categories with the principle of equal opportunity for all. However, exceptions have been made for states where the population of backward castes exceeds 50%. Bihar, being a state with a substantial population belonging to backward castes, may seek to leverage this exception to justify its decision.

  2. Empirical Data from Caste Census: The Bihar government asserts that the increased quota is grounded in a comprehensive caste census conducted in the state. The reliability and accuracy of this empirical data will be a crucial factor in the court's evaluation. Critics who question the precision of the census data may influence the court's assessment of the justification for the increased quota.

  3. Impact on Meritocracy: One of the significant considerations in this matter is the potential impact on meritocracy. Increasing the reservation to 75% implies a reduction in available seats for students and job applicants from non-reserved categories. The court may weigh the need for social justice against concerns about merit-based selection and its impact on overall efficiency and competence in educational institutions and government jobs.

Arguments in Favour of Increased Quota

Addressing Historical and Social Disadvantages: The increased quota is deemed necessary to address the historical and social disadvantages that backward castes have endured over the years. Supporters argue that this affirmative action is a crucial step toward rectifying systemic inequalities.

Empirical Data Supports Backwardness: Advocates contend that the quota is grounded in empirical data, highlighting the widespread social and economic backwardness experienced by backward castes in Bihar. They argue that the data justifies the need for increased representation.

Ensuring Fair Representation: Proponents assert that quotas are essential to ensure fair representation of backward castes in educational institutions and government jobs. Without such measures, there is a risk of perpetuating historical disparities and underrepresentation.

Arguments Against Increased Quota

Violation of 50% Reservation Limit: Opponents argue that the increased quota surpasses the 50% limit set by the Supreme Court for caste-based reservations. They contend that exceeding this limit undermines the constitutional framework and principles established by the judiciary.

Merit-Based Critique: Critics assert that quotas, by their nature, prioritize social categories over merit, potentially compromising the quality of education and government services. This argument emphasizes the importance of meritocracy in fostering excellence.

Impact on Non-Reserved Categories: Detractors express concerns that increased quotas could adversely affect non-reserved categories, leading to heightened competition for limited educational and job opportunities. This viewpoint emphasizes the need to strike a balance between social justice and maintaining standards of fairness.

As the legal battle unfolds, the court will weigh these arguments to determine the constitutionality of the Bihar government's decision, recognizing the profound impact it may have on the lives and opportunities of the state's populace.

Legal Challenges Across India Against Increased Quota for Backward Castes

1. Bihar:

November 2023: A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Patna High Court challenging the Bihar Legislature's decision to raise the reservation for backward classes, extremely backward classes, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes from 50% to 65%. The petition argues that this exceeds the 50% reservation limit set by the Supreme Court.

November 2023: Another PIL was filed in the Patna High Court, contesting the Bihar government's decision to increase reservations from 50% to 65%. This petition asserts that the growth is arbitrary and discriminatory, potentially harming the education system.

2. Rajasthan:

February 2019: Two petitions were filed in the Rajasthan High Court challenging the decision of the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly to grant 5% reservation in educational institutions and jobs to Gujjars and four other communities. The petitions argue that this increase is unconstitutional, surpassing the 50% reservation limit set by the Supreme Court.

Ongoing: Two additional petitions in the Rajasthan High Court challenge the decision to raise OBC reservations from 21% to 26%, contending that this exceeds the 50% limit set by the Supreme Court.

3. Other States:

Various High Courts: Similar petitions challenging increased reservations for backward castes have been filed in the High Courts of other states, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. These legal challenges question the constitutionality of the growth in quotas, particularly regarding the 50% reservation limit stipulated by the Supreme Court.

The legal landscape reflects a widespread concern and legal contestation regarding the constitutional validity of increased quotas for backward castes across multiple states in India. The outcome of these legal battles will significantly influence the trajectory of reservation policies and their adherence to constitutional principles of social justice and equality.

Supreme Court Petitions and Current Status

1. Ajay Kumar Singh vs India Union

Concerns: Challenges the increased reservation for OBCs in Madhya Pradesh, arguing that it is inappropriate and violates the constitutional order of social justice.

Current Status: The petition is still pending in the Supreme Court, and a final decision has not been reached.

2. Anjali Pawar vs India Union

Concerns: Challenges the increased reservation for OBCs in Maharashtra, asserting that it lacks a basis in practical data and is arbitrary.

Current Status: This petition is still under consideration by the Supreme Court, and a final decision is pending.

Court Decisions

As of Now: No final decisions have been rendered on the petitions challenging the increased quota for backward castes.

Pending Cases: Petitions in Bihar and Rajasthan are still awaiting resolution, and petitions in other states have yet to be accepted by the respective High Courts.

Interim Order in Rajasthan: The Supreme Court has issued an interim order in the Rajasthan case, placing a ban on the implementation of 5% reservation for Gurjars and four other communities until the High Court reviews the petitions.

Future Outlook

Anticipated Hearings: The Supreme Court is expected to address the issue of increased quotas for backward castes in the near future.

Significance: The outcomes of these cases will likely have a profound impact on the reservation system in India, shaping the trajectory of affirmative action policies and their adherence to constitutional principles of social justice and equality.

Judicial Stance on State Governments' Reservation Quota Decisions

1. Gujarat High Court - Youth for Equality (YFE) Case

Background: The Youth for Equality, an organization opposed to caste-based policies and reservations, filed a PIL in the Gujarat High Court challenging the state's decision to provide reservations for economically backward classes (EBCs).

Court Decision (2021): The Gujarat High Court dismissed the petition, stating that the state's decision to provide reservations for EBCs fell within its legislative competence.

2. Supreme Court - Bihar Caste-Based Census Notification

Context: In 2023, the Supreme Court declined to entertain various arguments challenging the Bihar government's notification to conduct a caste-based census in the state.

Outcome: The Court's decision implied acceptance of the state government's authority to carry out a caste-based survey. The petition, including contributions from the Youth for Equality Group, raised concerns about the survey.

3. Supreme Court - Tamil Nadu 69% Reservation Case (2022)

Petitioner: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu challenged the state government's decision to provide 69% reservation for backward classes, including 10% for the Vanniyar community.

Court Decision: The Supreme Court upheld the Tamil Nadu government's reservation policy, affirming the state's authority to allocate a 69% quota for backward classes, including a specific provision for the Vanniyar community.

4. Maharashtra - Maratha Reservation (2021)

Decision: The Supreme Court upheld the Maharashtra government's decision to grant 12% reservation to the Marathas in 2021. The Court's ruling supported the state's authority to allocate reservations for the Maratha community.

5. Karnataka - EBC Reservation (2021)

Outcome: The High Court upheld the Karnataka government's decision to provide 16% reservation for economically backward classes (EBCs) in 2021. This decision affirmed the state's authority to implement reservations for economically backward sections.

6. Madhya Pradesh - OBC Reservation (2022)

Decision: The Supreme Court upheld the Madhya Pradesh government's decision to allocate 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in 2022. The ruling endorsed the state's authority to implement OBC reservations.

These cases demonstrate that the judiciary has, in certain instances, upheld state governments' decisions on reservation quotas, recognizing their legislative competence in determining affirmative action policies for various communities.

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