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Modi government given 4 weeks to reply to notice on petitions demanding that new quota for economically poor be struck down

In a minor victory of sorts for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the Supreme Court, on Friday (January 25), refused to grant an immediate stay on the implementation of the 10 per cent quota for economically weaker sections (EWS) in jobs and admissions to education institutions, including private ones.

However, the apex court’s bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, has issued a notice to the Centre seeking its response, within four weeks, to the petitions that seek quashing of the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill that was passed by Parliament on January 9.

The amendment, which has received President Ram Nath Kovind’s nod, enables the Modi government to extend reservations in government jobs and educational institutions to those who qualify in the EWS category.

The petitioners have claimed that the amendments made to Article 15 and 16 of the Constitution are legally unsustainable as they violate the Basic Structure doctrine laid down by the Supreme Court in its Kesavananda Bharati verdict by doling out reservation benefits based on economic backwardness. The petitioners have also said that the amendments are also a violation of the top court’s Indra Sawhney judgment which had capped reservations – meant explicitly for those from the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and socially backward classes – at 50 per cent.

The amendments will help the Centre to breach the 50 percent cap on reservations set by the Supreme Court, taking the quota up to a whopping 60 per cent. The new quota is largely expected to benefit economically poor members of the upper classes who are currently deprived of the quota benefits as the apex court has consistently maintained that economic backwardness alone cannot be grounds for giving a community reservation benefits.

On Friday, the top court refused to grant a stay on the implementation of the new quota while agreeing with Solicitor General’s Tushar Mehta’s argument that the amendments made to Articles 15 and 16 cannot be stayed by the court at this stage.

A large section of the legal fraternity has maintained that the amendments may not stand legal scrutiny. The Congress-led Opposition which had joined hands with the Modi government on the last day of the Parliament’s winter session to ensure that the amendments are swiftly passed by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha has also said that the EWS quota will meet with legal hurdles.

Besides the petitions now in the Supreme Court, a similar plea has also been filed by the DMK in Madras High Court challenging the amendments.

— India Legal Bureau

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