On September 27th, 2022, the Bench finished hearing arguments from all the parties and reserved Judgment in the case. In a 3:2 split, the Bench delivered the Judgment on November 7th, 2022, and declared that the Amendment and EWS Reservations were constitutionally valid. Justices Maheshwari, Trivedi, and Pardiwala wrote separate concurring opinions for the majority and Justice Bhat wrote a dissent on behalf of himself and Chief Justice U.U. Lalit.
The Petitioners were: Janhit Abhiyan Akhil Bhartiya Kushwaha Mahasabha; Youth for Equality; SC/ST Agricultural Research and Education Employees Welfare Association; Peoples Party of India(Democratic)
These amendments empower the state to provide for a maximum of 10% reservation for the “economically weaker sections” of citizens other than Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and the non-creamy layer of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) — basically, those classes who could claim benefits of reserved category all these years. And therefore, it applies to those classes of citizens who can be, broadly speaking, categorized as upper caste.
Justice Trivedi approved of the EWS reservation as an affirmative and she stated “Treating economically weaker sections of citizens as a separate class would be a reasonable classification, and could not be termed as an unreasonable or unjustifiable classification, much less a betrayal of basic feature or violative of Article 14.”
She also said “As laid down by this court, just as equals cannot be treated unequally, unequal also cannot be treated equally. Treating unequal as equals would as well offend the doctrine of equality enshrined in Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution”.
It could be a way forward leading to an egalitarian, casteless and classless society,”
OPPOSITION TO THE QUOTA
Two judges CJI Lalit and Justice Bhatt were against the quota with the opinion of it was discriminatory in not allowing the poor from the reserved classes to get the benefits of quotas, while giving benefits to only general classes. They cited official data which showed that more than 80% of the families living below the poverty line belonged to SCs, STs, and OBCs.
“The exclusionary clause that keeps out backward classes and SCs/STs from the benefits of economic reservation strikes a death knell to the equality and fraternal principle which permeates the equality code and non-discrimination principle,” said Justice Bhat
Justice Bhat agreed that reservation could be granted on economic criteria, but struck down the EWS reservation for being discriminatory and arbitrary. He, however, refrained from going into the issue of whether breaching the 50% reservation cap is permissible.
As per the data quoted in the minority judgment, according to the 2004-05 National Sample Survey Office statistics, India had 31.7 crore people living below the poverty line, of which SCs accounted for 7.7 crores, followed by STs (4.2 crores), OBCs (13.9 crores) and the general category (5.8 crores).
Justice Bhat also referred to crime data to show that the bulk of crimes reported against SCs/STs were offenses under the Indian Penal Code, with a much smaller proportion of offenses that fall under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. He said the data was demonstrative that crimes against those marginalized and stigmatized by caste continue to this date.
“These legal developments and statistics belie the perception that such classes which can benefit from compensatory discrimination can be rightfully excluded from the benefit of reservations for the poor. That view is indefensible and ignores stark realities,” he said.
CURRENT SITUATION OF THE QUOTA
At present, 49.5% of seats in education and public appointments are reserved, with 15%, 7.5%, and 27% quotas for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes respectively.
IMPACT OF JUDGMENT ON OTHERS
The Mint reported that the Centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the decision to grant a 10% EWS (Economically Weaker Section) quota in admissions will not have an impact on the availability of seats for the general and reserved categories because 2,13,766 additional seats will be added to those already present in higher educational institutions.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed a five-judge constitution bench, which reserved its decision on appeals challenging the 10% EWS reservation in admissions and government jobs, that the government had given central higher education institutions ₹4,315 crores to build additional infrastructure to meet the demand for raising the seats