The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that its decision to grant 10 per cent reservation in jobs and education to economically weaker section is intended to uplift around 200 million people who are below the poverty line even after over 70 years of independence. Justifying the Constitution (103 amendment) Act 2019, which grants 10 per cent reservation to EWS, the Centre told a bench headed by Justice S A Bobde that nobody can say such people should not be given a "helping hand" to uplift them.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, told this to the bench which reserved its order on the limited issue of whether to refer a batch of petitions challenging the Constitution (103 amendment) Act, 2019 to a Constitution bench for adjudication.
During the arguments, the bench, also comprising justices R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai, observed that "poor people need the help of state, not the rich ones". The bench made it clear that it would deal with the issue of interim relief of stay after deciding whether the matter was required to be referred to a Constitution bench.
Venugopal said that arguments advanced by the petitioners that reservation cannot exceed 50 per cent is "fallacious" as up to 68 per cent quota was given in Tamil Nadu and the state's decision was upheld by the high court. He said that in Tamil Nadu reservation matter, the apex court has not stayed the operation of the high court's order. "After over 70 years, poverty is endemic and around 200 million people are below the poverty line," he told the bench.
"Is there a single person who can stand up and say that these economically and educationally backward people should not be given a helping hand," Venugopal asked, adding, "Therefore, the Parliament has stepped in to uplift them".
On the issue of whether interim stay be granted by the court, he said it is an constitutional amendment and the courts do not generally stay it. "This is a constitutional amendment. To the best of my knowledge and research, except NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission), no constitutional amendment was stayed," he said, adding that grounds raised by petitioners were already covered by earlier judgements of the apex court.
A five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court had on October 16, 2015 struck down the ambitious National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014, leading to the revival of the collegium system of appointment of judges.
The NJAC Act 2014 would have accorded a major role to the executive in appointing judges to the higher judiciary. During the hearing on Wednesday, the bench asked the Centre whether the Constitution (103 amendment), which exceeds the 50 per cent reservation norm, is not a matter of importance requiring it to be referred to a Constitution bench.
Venugopal said that 50 per cent reservation is not mandatory and it can exceed in exceptional circumstances. He said that 10 per cent reservation to EWS was over and above the existing SC, ST and OBC quota. He also argued that it is the duty of the state to ensure that education to economically weaker section is provided.
Referring to an earlier judgement of the apex court, he said that it was held that reservation based on pure economic criteria was valid.
The issue of having court of appeal in the country also cropped up during the hearing when the Attorney General said that the Supreme Court, being the constitutional court, should only deal with questions of constitutional importance.
"Access to justice is a fundamental right. Where is the fundamental right of justice if it takes 20 years for a case to be decided," he said, adding that generally, a trial court take seven to eight years to decide a matter, followed by another five-six years in high court and then seven to eight years in the apex court.
The bench observed that now, the apex court is dealing with matrimonial and matters related to transfer of teachers of government schools also.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for one of the petitioners, had on Tuesday told the bench that there are two issues -- whether the matter should go to a Constitution bench and can interim relief be granted in the meanwhile. He had argued that one of the issue which was required to be dealt with by the top court was whether the Constitution (103 Amendment) Act violates the basic structure.
The apex court had earlier refused to stay the Centre's decision to grant 10 per cent quota in jobs and admissions to economically weaker section of citizens. However, the court had agreed to examine the validity of the law and issued a notice to the Centre on the pleas.
Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha cleared the bill on January 8 and 9 respectively, and it has been signed by President Ram Nath Kovind. The quota will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.