Saturday, December 9, 2023

Bill for Jats Stayed

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The Punjab and Haryana High Court has cracked down on a bill passed by the Haryana government in March which gave job quotas to this dominant community.

By Vipin Pubby

The question over the controversial decision to provide reservation for the Jat community in Haryana in the wake of a violent protest earlier this year is back to square one with the Punjab and Haryana High Court staying a bill which was hurriedly passed.

The agitation, which led to an orgy of violence spread over five days in Haryana and which claimed at least 34 lives and injured over 400, was controlled only after curfew was imposed in several parts of the state and the army called to restore normalcy. Towards the far end of the agitation, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar had announced his government’s resolve to provide reservations for the community.

Dominant status

Dominant status

True to his word, his government came out with a bill on March 29. It took the assembly only a few minutes to pass it as none of the parties, including the Congress, wanted to be seen opposing it. The reason was not far to seek; the Jats account for a dominant 29 percent of the population. More importantly, the community has been dominating politics in the state. Since Haryana’s creation in 1966, seven of its 10 chief ministers were from this community.

It was no coincidence that the leaders of both the major opposition parties in the assembly, the Congress and the Om Prakash Chautala-led INLD, are from the Jat community and could not have opposed reservation for their community. They even ignored criticism that the bill was bad in law as similar provisions had earlier been quashed by the courts.

In fact, the Supreme Court had in March 2015 set aside the center’s notification on inclusion of Jats in the OBC category of the central list. The same year, the Punjab and Haryana High Court too had stayed the Haryana government notification giving 10 percent quota to Jats and four other communities under the Special OBC category. That notification was issued by the Congress-led Bhupinder Singh Hooda government and the bill brought out by the Khattar government was on similar lines.

Backward classes?

The Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Bill became an act after the governor’s assent and it was notified on May 13. It provided for 10 percent reservation in government jobs for Class III and IV posts and six percent quota for Class I and II posts to Jats, Jat Sikhs, Rors, Bishnois, Tyagis and Mulla Jats under a newly carved-out Backward Classes (C) category.

In less than 10 days, the new law was challenged by Bhiwani-based petitioner Murari Lal Gupta, through his counsel Mukesh Kumar Verma. He said that the reservation was provided on the basis of the Justice K C Gupta Commission report, which had been rejected by the Supreme Court. Reservation on the basis of the Justice Gupta report would be tantamount to revision of a judicial order which can’t be done by the legislature. Also, it violated the apex court-laid upper limit of 50 percent quotas.

With the stay granted by a division bench comprising Justices SS Saron and Gurmeet Ram, the operation of the provisions, including reservation in educational institutions, has been put on hold. The bench has issued a notice to the state government seeking justification of its action and has posted the case for July 21.

Judicial loopholes

Jat leaders have blamed the Khattar government for not plugging the judicial loopholes and not making provisions to strengthen the amended law. They are likely to contest the case in the High Court as well as step up their agitation to demand such reservation by the central government across the country.

Significantly, the Haryana government had not filed a caveat in the High Court to avoid a stay despite clear signals that the new law would be challenged in the Court. Critics point out that the government did not appear too keen on the legislation as it was meant to douse the fires and that it would like the courts to throw out the provisions. It is seen as yet another attempt by politicians to shift responsibility and put the onus on courts despite protestations that the judiciary was stepping into the domain of the legislature.

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