Supreme Court Constitution bench upholds validity of EWS reservation by 3:2 majority

Announcing their decision in Janhit Abhiyan versus Union of India, Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela M. Trivedi and J.B. Pardiwala, in the majority, upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment that provides for reservation for economically weaker sections of the citizenry, while Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and Justice S.R. Bhat, in the minority, struck it down for excluding the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

THE Supreme Court on Monday, by a majority of 3:2, upheld the validity of the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019 that provides for a 10 per cent quota to economically weaker sections (‘EWS’) of citizens in admission to educational institutions, including private educational institutions, and to appointment to any office under the State. A five-judge Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) Uday Umesh Lalit and Justices S. Ravindra Bhat, Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela M. Trivedi and J.B. Pardiwala assembled this morning to hand down the verdict.

The bench had heard the batch of petitions challenging the Constitutional amendment, filed in 2019, for seven days in September before reserving judgment on the matter on September 27.

Justices Maheshwari, Trivedi and Pardiwala, by their separate but concurring judgments, upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, holding it not violating any provisions of the Constitution, let alone the basic structure of the Constitution. Reading out the judgment, Justice Maheshwari said that reservation is an instrument of affirmative action by the State so as to ensure an all-inclusive approach. He added that the exclusion of those covered under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) does not violate the equality code and does not damage the basic structure.

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Justice Trivedi concurred with the view taken by Justice Maheshwari. She added that the amendment has to be treated as affirmative action by the Parliament for the benefit of the EWS class. It cannot be said to be an unreasonable classification. She also observed that at the end of 75 years of independence, we need to revisit the system of reservation in the larger interest of society.

Justice Pardiwala also agreed with the view taken by Justice Maheshwari. He averred, “While concurring with Justices Maheshwari and Bela Trivedi and while upholding the impugned amendment, I have thought it fit to observe – ‘Reservation is not an end; it is a means. It should not be allowed to become a vested interest’”.

 Justice Bhat wrote a dissenting judgment striking down the 103rd Constitutional Amendment for excluding the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from its ambit. He declared that such an exclusion is not permissible. CJI Lalit also agreed with the view taken by Justice Bhat.

Also read: AG defends EWS quota as distinct and not violative of basic structure theory

Though there is unanimity among all judges on the bench as far as the use of economic criteria as the sole factor for reservation is concerned, the minority judgment has taken the view that it could not be upheld for excluding the poorest of poor.

A battery of senior counsel for the petitioners had argued that the EWS quota violated the basic structure, calling it a fraud on the Constitution. On the other hand, the Attorney-General for India defended the amendment by submitting that the introduction of reservation up to ten per cent has to be necessarily treated as an extraordinary situation, and hence cannot be the subject of any argument of violation of the basic structure.

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