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SAT quota punch jolts Naveen govt
- State law department plans to challenge order in high court

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 15: The Naveen Patnaik government is in a fix after the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) struck down Orissa Reservation of Posts and Services (for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes), Act 2008, that provides 27 per cent job reservation for other backward classes (OBCs).

“We have sent a proposal to the law department to move the high court to challenge the SAT order. It will take some time,” said a senior government official of the ST/SC development department.

Following the SAT order, uncertainty looms large over the examination for 811 posts of assistant section officer in the state secretariat and Raj Bhavan secretariat. The order will also affect the recruitment process of assistant surgeons and the Odisha Civil Service (OCS) main examination.

“Though the OCS prelims examination is going to be held as per the schedule from January 19, there is a possibility that it will later trigger another controversy. The SAT has made it clear that reservation should be restricted to 50 per cent as per the order of the Supreme Court and not 65.75 per cent as envisaged by the Odisha Public Service Commission,” said an official. The crux of the problem is that in 2008 the state government had fixed the quota for socially and educationally backward classes in government jobs at 27 per cent.

The Act came into force through a gazette notification issued on February 7, 2009. Reservation of 27 per cent for socially and educationally backward classes enhanced the total reservation quota to 65.75 per cent in government jobs in the state.

According to the state population, reservation for SCs and STs is fixed at 16.25 per cent and 22.5 per cent, respectively, under the Orissa Reservation of Vacancies in Posts and Service (for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe) Act, 1975.

The SAT has struck down the government’s decision to reserve 65.75 per cent jobs in the state on the ground that the Supreme Court had capped reservation quota at 50 per cent.

Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have reserved 69 per cent and 73 per cent jobs for SCs, STs and OBCs because the laws made by the two states are part of the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. Odisha has, however, passed a Bill in the Assembly seeking similar status for its laws, the proposal is pending with the Centre.

“As the state government is not serious about its commitment to provide reservation to OBCs, the proposal has not yet received the nod of Parliament,” said a senior official.

Butting up a brave face, SC/ST development, minorities and backward classes welfare minister Lal Bihari Himirika said: “ We are keeping a tab on the development in the wake of SAT’s verdict. I am on a tour. Soon after I return to Bhubaneswar, I will call a meeting of senior officials to discuss what can be done on this matter. The state government is committed for the overall development of all the communities.”

The state government’s dilly-dallying attitude towards the cause of the OBCs has evoked sharp criticism from political parties.

“SAT has no power to strike down government policies. It is just an administrative tribunal and its direction should not be adhered to and the government should go ahead with its reservation policy. It seems the state government is not serious about providing reservation to the OBCs,” said Congress leader and Union minister of chemicals and fertilisers Srikant Jena.

Former law minister and senior Congress leader Narasingha Mishra said: “The chief minister does not know the law of the land. On different occasions, the state government has enacted laws to mollify public anger that courts have later struck down. The state government does not really mean business.”

Reacting to it, BJP state unit president K.V. Singh Deo said: “For political reasons, they had done it (the reservation for OBCs) in a hurry without pressing to first include it in the 9th schedule of the Constitution. Now they are facing the music. The SAT did nothing wrong. That is the correct position in law.”

Samajwadi state unit president Rabi Behera said: “OBCs in the state are being denied their just rights. The state government is not at all serious about the issue. We have been staging protests. The ruling BJD should ask its MPs to raise this issue in Parliament.”