Can Maratha Reservation Pass Legal Litmus Test? 

Maharashtra cabinet may have approved 16% quota for Marathas, but will the Bombay HC agree? 

5 min read
Can Maratha Reservation Pass Legal Litmus Test? 

Just days after the Maharashtra legislature unanimously passed a bill granting 16 percent reservation to Marathas, the state government now prepares to face its first legal litmus test. As the Bombay High Court gets set to hear the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against the reservation, The Quint takes a look what the new law states, and its implications in Maharashtra and beyond.


Why Is Maratha Reservation Being Challenged In Court?

After decades of pushing the demand, and two failed attempts to secure reservation for Marathas in the last 5 years, the Bill granting reservation for the community was finally passed on 30 November. With 16 percent of government jobs and positions in educational institutions now earmarked for Marathas, reservation in Maharashtra now stands at a total of 68 percent.

But the Maharashtra government’s decision isn’t going unchallenged. Jishri Patil, an advocate, immediately filed a plea in Bombay High Court opposing the government’s decision, on the grounds that it violates the Supreme Court order that capped reservations across all states at a maximum of 50 percent.

The petitioner’s lawyer also argued that with the admission process in the state about to begin, about 2 lakh applications are expected for medical and engineering courses and around 76,000 recruitment applications will be given out. But with Maratha reservation coming into effect, there will be confusion among the candidates.

Another argument that has also been made while seeking the reservation be quashed, is that this move amounts to ‘discrimination against open category candidates’.

Having already anticipated opposition, Vinod Patil, a petitioner from the Maratha Community filed a caveat in the Bombay High Court and the Maharashtra government too filed a caveat in the Supreme Court on 3 December . This ensures that the courts will hear Patil and the State government’s side before passing an order in the case.

How Old Is The Demand For Maratha Reservation?

From vehemently protesting reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) before the 1980s, the Marathas changed their stand drastically once the Mandal Commission report was released. What changed over the years?

While Marathas comprise approximately 32 percent of the state’s population, they have been well-represented in the state’s political and business sectors. Since the 1960s, Marathas have occupied at least 40 percent of the seats in Assemblies, until recently when that number dipped. Most of the 16 chief ministers that have governed Maharashtra have also been from the Maratha community. Marathas even have immense influence in private educational institutions, cooperative banks and sugar cooperatives. However, a larger majority of its community members are small and marginal farmers.

According to a 2014 CSDS survey, almost 20 percent Maratha households consisted of landless farmers. At least 15 percent of these farmers owned less than 3 acres of land and barely 3 percent of them can be considered ‘rich’. Sensing their livelihoods at stake, Marathas have been agitating to be recognised as OBCs. 

On June 2017, the Maharashtra Government set up an 11-member committee headed by Justice (retd) NG Gaikwad that found the Maratha community to be a socially, educationally and economically backward class. The committee classified Marathas under an independent category called Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC).

While the commission did recommend reservation for Marathas, it did not specify the percentage that should be allotted.


Will This Move Help BJP Appease Maratha Voters?

Despite making massive inroads into Western Maharashtra in the recent civic polls, can the BJP’s push for reservation help it win over Maratha voters who traditionally aligned with the NCP? Political analysts believe that’s unlikely to happen.

The influential sugar belt of Western Maharashtra has traditionally been a Congress-NCP stronghold. While that partly changed in the civic polls, political experts believe a reversal of trends could be very likely in the Lok Sabha elections. Nitin Birmal, Professor of Political Science at Dr Ambedkar Art & Commerce College says:

“I don’t think Marathas of Western Maharashtra will support BJP in the upcoming elections. This is because, in Western Maharashtra because of the non-Brahmin movement, there is a tension between the Brahmins and Marathas. I don’t think they will support when Devendra Fadnavis is in charge of Maharashtra and the BJP Chief Minister. If they change the Chief Minister from a Brahmin to Maratha, then maybe Marathas from Western Maharashtra will support BJP.”
Nitin Birmal, Professor of Political Science at Dr Ambedkar Art & Commerce College 

With state political heavy weights like Prashant Hiray and Apurva Hiray deserting the BJP and rejoining the NCP in the Nashik region, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar has begun strengthening his hold once again.

Maratha reservation could benefit the BJP by cementing its hold in other parts of the state. But, if the courts stay the Maratha quota legislation, the BJP is bound to face backlash from the community.

The reservation has also left OBCs in the state fuming. Multiple OBC groups now fear that if the courts strike down the additional 16 percent reservation for Marathas as it violates the Supreme Court’s capping limit, the government could provide the Maratha reservation from the OBC quota.

What Are The Implications Of Maratha Quota?

If Maratha legislation manages to overcome legal hurdles, this will make Maharashtra the state with the second highest reservations in the country with 68 percent caste-based quota, trailing Tamil Nadu, which has 69 percent quota. But this could also act as a catalyst for the demand for reservation already being made by Patidars and Jats in BJP-ruled states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

In fact, the Patidars of Gujarat, who were until recently opposed to caste-based reservation, just like the Marathas, are now demanding inclusion into the OBC list. This numerically dominant group – that also wields significant political power – owns nearly 27 percent of all big and small industrial units, and owns thriving businesses in other countries.

The present generation of Patidars, however, seem to be realising the immense political influence they hold and are using it as a means of acquiring economic and social growth through reservation.

Another dominant community – the Jats, spread across Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan – are also agitating for reservation. A survey conducted across 5 districts of Western UP found that the average total household income of Jats at Rs 31,202 was found to be lower than that of Yadavs (Rs 37,478) and Gujjars (Rs 32,954), reported Business Standard.

The study found Jats to be lagging behind Yadavs in representation in government jobs as private jobs. What appears to be the common factor between the demands of Marathas, Jats and Gujarat’s Patidars is that all these communities, though dominant in numbers, find their economic status to be declining over the years due to agrarian crises.

Hence, with the Marathas now likely to receive quota, the Patidars and Jats too are likely to up their demands for reservation.

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