In an important judgement, the Apex Court has ruled, by a 3:2 majority, that the 102nd Constitutional Amendment has abrogated the State’s power to identify Socially and Educationally Backward Classes or SEBCs.
As per the judgment, after introducing Articles 338B and 342A to the Constitution, the President has the first say regarding exclusion and inclusion of SEBCs. After that, the Parliament has the power for exclusion and modification.
This judgment was given in Dr Jaishree Laxmanrao Patil vs The Chief Minister & Ors, wherein the Constitution Bench considered the validity of Maratha reservation and the 102nd Constitution Amendment.
Hon’ble Judges unanimously agreed on the constitutional validity of the 102nd Amendment of the Constitution but different opinions on the question of whether it affected the State’s power to identify SEBC’s.
Hon’ble Justice Ravindra Bhat, Hon’ble Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Hon’ble Justice Hemant Gupta observed that the power of identification of SEBCs, exercised by the states has shifted to the domain of the President and the Parliament for modification, by Article 342A and that it does not violate the important features or structure of the Constitution.
However, Hon’ble Justice Bhushan, Hon’ble Justice Bhat had a different interpretation of the said Amendment.
The Court held that Article 342A of the Constitution by divesting the States power to legislate or classify any backward class of citizens does not affect the federal polity and does not violate the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.
The majority of Judges interpreted the 102nd Amendment as follows:-
- Through the introduction of Articles 366 (26C) and 342A through the 102nd, the President alone is empowered to identify SEBCs and include them in a list to be published in Article 342A (1) deemed to include SEBCs concerning each state and union territory.
- Through the existing mechanism, statutory commissions and States can only make a suggestion to the Parliament for inclusion or exclusion of SEBC.
- State’s power to make reservations would fall within the scope of Articles 16 and 15 except for the identification of SEBCs.
- The Commission formed under Article 338B can make recommendations to the President, who shall consider it expeditiously.
However, Hon’ble Justice Ashok Bhushan and Hon’ble Justice opined that 102nd Amendment doesn’t take away the State’s power to identify classes of the State.