SC to rule tomorrow on validity of EWS quota

The Supreme Court will announce its decision on November 7 on the constitutional validity of the 103rd Amendment to the Constitution which introduces 10 per cent reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in admissions and government jobs.

A five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India UU Lalit, Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, S Ravindra Bhatt, Bela M Trivedi and JB Pardiwala reserved its verdict on the matter on September 27.

According to Monday’s agenda, which lists the day’s business, there are two judgments – one by the CJI and the other by Justice Bhatt. CJI Lalit is set to leave office on November 8.

40 petitions dealing with various aspects of the reservation policy introduced in 2019 have been seized in the court.

Opponents of the move said reservation was not intended to lift people out of poverty, but to ensure representation for those denied it due to structural inequality.

Calling the amendment “an attack on the constitutional vision of social justice” and “a travesty on the Constitution”, they claim that if it is upheld, it will end equality of opportunity. They argue that it violates the basic structure of the Constitution and the 50 percent ceiling set by the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Mandal Commission case.

Supporting the EWS quota, then Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court that it would in no way undermine the rights of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

“EWS has been given reservation for the first time. On the other hand, as far as SCs and STs are concerned, they are loaded with benefits through affirmative action,” he said.

Venugopal rejected claims that it violated the basic structure of the constitution, saying it was given without disturbing the 50 percent quota for socially and economically backward classes (SEBC).

Hearing the petition, the bench observed that the government formulates policies on the basis of economic criteria so as to deliver benefits to the target population, that economic criteria form part of the permissible ground and rational basis for classification.

It wanted to know why economic conditions could not be the basis of conservation. “75 years later, we still see generations of poverty. There is a large population of people below the poverty line (class). So why can’t there be affirmative action on an economic basis?… Theoretically, government schools are available, jobs are available, but these people are as disadvantaged as others. So, what’s wrong if they don’t belong to a homogenous group? The court asked the petitioners.

The bench also pointed out that economic backwardness, unlike caste-based backwardness, “may be temporary” and asked whether the problems of EWS could not be addressed through affirmative measures such as scholarships and fee waivers instead of reservations.

“When it comes to other reservations, it’s connected to lineage. That backwardness is not something that is temporary, but goes on for centuries and generations. But economic backwardness may be temporary,” the court said.

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