By a 3:2 majority ruling, the Supreme Court of India upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, which introduced a 10 percent reservation in public employment and education for the Economically Weaker Section.
However, it excludes Schedule Castes (SCs), Schedule Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) from its scope, as they enjoy pre-existing benefits.
While Justices Bela M Trivedi, Dinesh Maheshwari, and JB Pardiwala upheld the law and delivered the majority opinion, Justice S Ravindra Bhat, along with Chief Justice UU Lalit, on his last working day, gave the minority view.
As Justice Maheshwari pointed out, the main issue in this case is whether or not the reservation on the basis of economic criteria is violative of the basic structure of the constitution.
The majority view said that the amendment was not violative of the basic structure of the Constitution.
The majority judgement delivered by Justice Maheshwari held that “reservation is an instrument of affirmative action by the state so as to ensure an all-inclusive approach. It is an instrument not only for the inclusion of socially and educationally backward classes…” but also for including “any class or sections so disadvantaged as to answer the description of ‘weaker section’.”
Also, Justice Trivedi applauded the legislature for being considerate of the needs of the people.
Chief Justice of India UU Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat said that reservation on the basis of economic criteria “per se is permissible in relation to access to public goods (under Article 15 of the Indian Constitution), but at the same time is not true for Article 16, the goal of which is empowerment through representation of the community.”
Furthermore, he called such an exclusion “Orwellian” as the government’s own statistics demonstrate that “the bulk of economically deprived sections of society belong to SC, ST, and OBC.” (Reported by The Hindu)
“The characterization of excluding the poor from SEBCs is incorrect. What is described as benefits cannot be understood as a free pass.” It is a compensatory and reparative mechanism. “The exclusion is based on social origin, which destroys the equality code.” (Live Law.in)
Despite the dissenting views, Justices Bhat and Maheshwari agreed on the state’s power to make special provisions for implementing reservations in private, unaided institutions, including professional colleges.