In 3:2 Decision, Supreme Court Upholds Validity of EWS Quota

The judges who upheld the 103rd Constitution Amendment Act said that the state is empowered to provide affirmative action based on economic criteria.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the 103rd Constitution Amendment Act which granted 10% reservation to the economically weaker sections (EWS) among the upper castes in a 3:2 decision.

A constitution bench that comprised Chief Justice of India (CJI) U.U. Lalit, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, Justice J.B. Pardiwala, Justice Bela M. Trivedi and Justice Ravindra Bhat delivered the verdict on a batch of pleas challenging the EWS quota in government educational institutions and employment.

The judges authored four separate judgments, with CJI Lalit and Justice Bhat dissenting.

According to Bar and Bench, Justice Maheshwari held that the amendment does not violate the basic structure of the constitution because the reservation is based on economic criteria and the state has the right to do so. He said that reservation is an instrument of affirmative action which should ensure an “all-inclusive march towards [the] goals of [an] egalitarian society”.

Justice Trivedi, in a separate judgment, concurred with Justice Maheshwari. “The amendment as a separate class is a reasonable classification. Legislature understands the needs of people and it is aware of the economic exclusion of people from reservation,” she ruled, according to Bar and Bench.

She suggested that the whole concept of reservation may need to be reexamined. “It cannot be gainsaid that age old caste system in India led to introduction of reservations and so that SC ST get level playing field. At end of 75 years we need to take a re-look at reservations in general in spirit of transformative constitutionalism,” her verdict said.

Justice Pardiwala also authored a separate judgment upholding the EWS quota and also batted for a reexamination of affirmative action.

“The ones who have moved ahead should be removed from backward classes so that ones in need can be helped. The ways to determine backward classes need a re-look so that ways are relevant in today’s time. Reservation should not continue for indefinite time so that it becomes a vested interest,” his judgment said, according to Bar and Bench.

While Justice Bhat authored the dissenting judgment, the CJI concurred with it. In his opinion, Justice Bhat held that the amendment is “deluding us to believe that those getting social and backward class benefit are somehow better placed.”

He said the amendment’s exclusions violate the constitution’s equality code, according to Bar and Bench. The exclusion of SCs, STs and OBCs from the EWS quota amounts to “discrimination against them”.

“Economic destitution, economic backwardness is the backbone of this amendment and on this account the amendment is constitutionally indefeasible. However, excluding the classes such as SC/ST, OBC is not constitutionally permissible,” Bar and Bench quoted him as saying.

Note: A copy of the Supreme Court order is awaited. Details from the judgments will be added once it becomes available.