The 11- Judge Bench heard the issue with respect to the matter pertaining to whether the State has the power to exceed the 50 % cap of reservation, as a 9- Judge Bench gave the decision in the case of Indira Sawhney.
In June 2019, the Bombay HC had upheld the validity of reservation granted to the Maratha community by the state government to the Maratha community and educationally backward class category (SEBC) in government jobs and educational institutions. However, the court had ruld that 16% reservation is not justifiable and ruled that reservation should not exceed 12% in employment and 13% in education as recommended by Backward Commission.
Post Maratha Reservation, the total reservation in Maharashtra effectively increased from 52% to 68%, which passed the 50% ceiling set by the Supreme Court.
A Bench comprising of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta, and S. Ravindra Bhat heard the matter whereas Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi, Kapil Sibal, CU Singh and others argued for the reference of the matter to a Constitution Bench.
The Advocates argued and gave their submissions, among which Senior Advocate Mukul Rohtagi argued that the Bombay HC had upheld reservation exceeding 50% cap, and pointed out that first, the ceiling of 50% could not be exceeded as per the 9-Jjudge Bench decision in Indira Sawhney, which allowed for breaching of this limit only under exceptional circumstances. Secondly, he pointed out that the 102nd Constitutional Amendment led to the formation of the National Commission of Backward Classes (NCBC) and 103rd Constitutional Amendment brought in reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).
“In Indira Sawhney, it was held that Articles 15 and 16 were mostly caste-based and that reservation could not be on economic factors. But, 103rd Amendment brought EWS Reservation.
It was also argued that Articles 15 and 16 were a part of basic structure, and there was a clash with Articles 338 and 342, would the latter Articles survive.
However, the court held that 50% ceiling for reservation can be exceeded under “exceptional and extraordinary circumstances” and observed that the Maratha Reservation was based on justifiable data submitted by the Backward Commission.