Maratha reservation order will not apply this year: Supreme Court

Published : June 03, 2019 13:45 IST

There is a new twist to the ongoing 10 per cent reservation controversy for the economically weaker sections for postgraduate medical and dental courses introduced by the Maharashtra government. On May 30, in response to a plea by a student from the general category, the Supreme Court passed an interim direction that stated that the 10 per cent reservation in the said courses would not be applicable for this academic year. The sticking point had been whether or not the reservation quota would be valid for students who applied prior to November 30 which is when the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act came into being.

The politics of reservation reached a new high on May 17 when the Maharashtra State Cabinet gave its approval to promulgate an ordinance despite the Model Code of Conduct for the Lok Sabha election still being in force. The ordinance was to amend the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act in order to ensure a reservation quota for Maratha students in postgraduate medical and dental courses this year.

On May 20 Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao signed the Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and for appointments in the public services and posts under the State) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2019. A press release from the Raj Bhavan said: “The ordinance was issued by the Governor on the basis of the advice given by the State Government to provide the benefit of reservations in admissions to SEBC classes in Medical and Dental under-graduate and post graduate courses. There shall now be reservations in favour of the candidates belonging to SEBC classes from the educational year 2019-20 and also for admissions to other educational courses including under-graduate courses requiring the passing of the NEET or any other National Entrance Test.”

The background to the problem was this. The SEBC Act that ensures reservation for Maratha students came into force on November 30, 2018, but the postgraduate medicine course admissions had already started on November 1. Since the Act came after the admissions process was over, it was understood that it would not be applicable for the 2019-20 admission year. But Maratha students demanded that the Act be applicable to the 2019-20 admission year.

Medical and dental aspirants who were affected moved the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court in the matter. The Nagpur bench heard the matter and forbade the State government from granting the stated 16 per cent reservation to Maratha students on the grounds that the admission process had started prior to the Act. The order said the Maratha reservation Act did not apply for the PG admissions for 2019-20. The Supreme Court has upheld the High Court’s decision. This automatically meant that the admissions made under the reservation category stood cancelled. About 250 students were affected by this and they staged a public protest in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan.

The Maratha reservation issue is a hot potato at the moment drawing ire from all castes. Immediately after the Act came into being, there was a move by Brahmins to demand similar privileges. The Akhil Bharatiya Brahman Mahasangh promoted their case by saying Brahmins in the State were also backward and those who worked full time as priests only had earning opportunities for 120 days in the year. The Act rankled with Dalits too. Despite this, the government has been giving in to the Maratha demands because of the growing power of the community. It forms about 30 per cent of the electorate, is upwardly mobile and, most importantly from a politician’s point of view, it is an extremely united community as was seen in the gigantic and orderly morchas it has taken out over the last couple of years. The overshadowing threat is that Marathas can and will vote as a block. With Vidhan Sabha elections due later this year, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ government really had little choice but to take the unusual step of approaching the Election Commission and getting permission to promulgate an ordinance in the middle of a national election. It did not matter that by this time Maharashtra had already gone to the polls. Fadnavis and his team have their eyes on the upcoming State elections.

The BJP’s Girish Mahajan, who is the Minister for Medical Education, met the protesting students and assured them that after the ordinance was issued “they will get the same seats in the same branch that they were allotted before the quota was scrapped for the year by the High Court.” The State government held that the court’s decision was based on a “technicality”, even going to the extent of saying that though the admission process started prior to the enactment of the Act the actual admissions began only after the Act came into force.

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