Tamil Nadu Hit A Legal Roadblock With The Court
The Supreme Court hearing a bunch of petitions challenging stay of a Tamil Nadu law providing reservation to Vanniyar community, considered most backward community in the state, hit a legal roadblock with the court hearing a battery of lawyers on the question whether the validity of the state law should be examined by a larger bench. The law providing 10.5% reservation to Vanniyar community was struck down as unconstitutional by the Madras high court on November 1 against which several appeals were filed by the state government, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) – a political outfit in the state representing the interests of the Vanniyakula Kshatriyas who would benefit from this law, and a host of other individuals.
This question arose as submissions were made by a cross section of lawyers on Tuesday that while considering the validity of the 2021 law providing reservation to Vanniyars in jobs and admissions in the state, the power of the state government to identify and create provisions for a particular community within the most backward communities (MBC) will require examination of two constitutional provisions, the 102nd Constitution amendment that allows President to notify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC) and the 105th Constitution amendment, passed in August last year by the Parliament, restoring the power of the states to identify SEBCs. Interestingly, the 105th amendment was brought in after the Supreme Court pronounced its decision on the Maratha quota law, striking it down on the ground that states no longer have the power to identify SEBC. Marathas were identified by the Maharashtra government as falling within SEBCs.
The recommendation for 10.5% reservation to the Vanniyakula Kshatriya was made in commensuration with their population as enumerated in a survey held in 1983 by the Tamil Nadu Second Backward Classes Commission. "The State had enacted the Act in 2021 only based on adequate authenticated data on population of the Most Backward Classes and Denotified Communities enumerated by the Tamil Nadu Second Backward Classes Commission in 1983," the government contended. Tamil Nadu said the caste-wise population data disclosed by the Commission was the "only authenticated data available as of now before the State; and such data can be used effectively to plan for sub-classification within backward classes of citizens". “Totally brushing aside such an authentic survey just for the insignificant observations in the note of dissenting members of that Commission on the population enumerated on few of the communities in the order [of the High Court] cannot be sustained,” the State’s petition said. It said the High Court had decided to focus on these observations rather than the "stupendous" exercise conducted for two years by the Commission and the State for enumeration of the data.
The 1992 Indira Sawhney judgment allows state to sub-categorise castes. The petition filed by the state said that MBCs were identified in Tamil Nadu as early as in 1957 as equivalent to scheduled castes but without the factor of untouchability. IN 1994, 20% reservation was provided to MBCs in the state. The foundation for an internal reservation for Vanniyars up to 10.5% within 20% quota was laid by the recommendation of the Tamil Nadu backward classes commission chairman in 2012. The state backward classes commission revisited this recommendation in February 2021 and gave the go ahead for implementing 10.5% Vanniyar quota within the MBC quota. This led to petitions being filed in the Madras high court by other MBCs and de-notified communities, who questioned cornering of benefits by the Vanniyars.
However, the Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its judgment in a batch of petitions challenging a Madras High Court decision declaring ultra vires a State quota law. It would be riveting to watch what could be unravelled further.
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