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Patna High Court strikes down Bihar govt's quota hike to 65% in jobs, education

A Division Bench headed by Chief Justice K Vinod Chandran passed the order on a bunch of petitions which had opposed the legislations brought by the Nitish Kumar government in November 2023

PTI Patna Published 20.06.24, 12:29 PM
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In a setback to the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar, the Patna High Court on Thursday struck down its last year's decision to raise quotas for Dalits, backward classes and tribals from 50 to 65 per cent.

A Division Bench headed by Chief Justice K Vinod Chandran passed the order on a bunch of petitions which had opposed the legislation brought by the state government in November 2023.

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The quotas were increased following a comprehensive survey of castes which gave a fresh estimate of the population of SCs, STs, OBCs and extremely backward classes (EBCs) in Bihar.

The Nitish Kumar government on November 21 last year issued gazette notifications for raising the quota for deprived castes from 50 to 65 per cent in state government jobs and educational institutions.

“On our plea that the amendments violated Articles 14, 16 and 20 of the Constitution, the court had reserved its judgment in March. Today, the court allowed the petitions,” said Ritika Rani, one of the counsels who appeared on behalf of the petitioners.

These articles deal with equality before the law and equal protection of the laws (Art 14), equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment (Art 16) and safeguarding certain rights in criminal proceedings (Art 20).

Another counsel for the petitioners, Nirbhay Prashant, said the state government defended the move stressing that it was based on the caste survey.

"However, we had contested it citing Supreme Court's judgements in the Indra Sawhney case, and more recently, in the matter relating to reservations for Marathas. The Apex Court has made it clear that no state government can introduce quotas that exceed the 50 per cent cap," he told PTI Video.

The state government had on October 2 last year come out with its report on a caste survey that was conducted after the Centre expressed its inability to undertake a headcount of social groups other than SCs and STs as part of the census.

According to the survey, OBCs and EBCs comprised a whopping 63 per cent of the state’s total population while SCs and STs, taken together, accounted for more than 21 per cent.

The state government took the view that the Supreme Court’s cap on reservations at 50 per cent had already been breached with the introduction of 10 per cent quotas for economically weaker sections (EWS) by the Centre and replicated in provinces, including Bihar.

The state government then amended its reservation laws whereby the quotas for SCs, STs, OBCs and EBCs were raised from 50 per cent to 65 per cent. Taken together with the quotas for EWS, reserved seats in the state rose to 75 per cent of the total population.

The state government had also requested the Centre to place the amended reservation laws in the Constitution’s Ninth Schedule.

The Ninth Schedule of the Constitution includes a list of Central and state laws that cannot be challenged in courts. In 1992, the Supreme Court capped reservations for the backward classes at 50 per cent.

The amended quota laws had created a strong buzz and may have inspired the Congress, which was then sharing power with Nitish Kumar's JD(U) in Bihar, to promise a nationwide caste survey if it forms the government at the Centre.

The BJP, which found itself back in power in the state with the latest volte-face by Kumar, had also been demanding its share of credit, pointing out that the survey was ordered in 2022, while it was a part of the ruling coalition.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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