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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 19 June 2024

5 lakh OBC certificates ‘invalid’: BJP verdict, won't accept Calcutta HC order, says Mamata Banerjee

'I respect the courts. But I do not accept the judgment that says Muslims should be kept out of OBC reservation. OBC reservations will continue. We will go to a higher court'

Our Bureau Calcutta Published 23.05.24, 05:44 AM
Mamata Banerjee in Khardah on Wednesday.

Mamata Banerjee in Khardah on Wednesday. Picture by Ankit Mukherjee

A division bench of Calcutta High Court on Wednesday passed a verdict scrapping more than five lakh OBC certificates issued by the Bengal government after 2010 as “invalid”.

The bench of Justices Tapabrata Chakraborty and Rajasekhar Mantha, which was dealing with a 2012 petition challenging the provisions of the OBC Reservation Act, also asked the state government to frame new rules along the lines of national norms before issuing certificates afresh.

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Within hours of the verdict, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said she would not accept the judgment.

“An order has come… I am not going to accept this verdict. This is the verdict of the BJP,” Mamata said in two back-to-back rallies at Khardah and Panihati.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been claiming that Muslims will take away the reservations of SCs, STs and OBCs.... It was a divisive agenda and this is what they got the court to do today. I respect the courts. But I do not accept the judgment that says Muslims should be kept out of OBC reservation. OBC reservations will continue. We will go to a higher court,” she added.

Justice Mantha had in December 2022 restrained the state government from taking any coercive measures against BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari in connection with cases lodged against him. The judge had also asked the state not to lodge any criminal case against Suvendu without prior court permission.

The high court clarified that Wednesday’s order would not affect those who had already secured jobs based on the OBC certificates issued after 2010. However, they would not be allowed to apply for new jobs based on the certificates.

“The state government and its cabinet will have to frame a fresh rule, obviously by following the national norms, for issuing fresh OBC certificates,” the bench held.

The OBC reservation saga in Bengal can be traced back to the Left rule in 2010 when the then Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government had included 53 sub-castes accounting for 87.1 per cent of the 2.02-crore Muslim population in Bengal in the OBC list. While including the Muslim sub-castes in the OBC category, the Left Front government had increased the OBC reservation in government jobs to 17 per cent from 7 per cent.

Through an executive order, the Left government implemented the enhanced reservation and created two groups in the OBC category.

The government had reserved 10 per cent of jobs for Group A where more backward sub-castes — a majority of whom were Muslims — were included. Another 7 per cent jobs were reserved for backward sub-castes, which included both Hindu and Muslim sub-castes.

“But the Left Front government could not turn the executive order into an Act as the bill could not secure the governor’s assent before the government was voted out of power in 2011,” said a senior government official.

The Trinamool Congress had placed a fresh bill in the Assembly, which ultimately secured the governor’s assent.

Later the Trinamool government included 35 more sub-castes, of which 33 are Muslims, in the OBC category. With the inclusion of new sub-castes by the state government in late 2012, 92 per cent of the state's Muslim population had come under the OBC category, an official said.

"The bench today set aside the OBC Reservation Act enacted in 2012. The court considered the act ultra vires to the provisions laid down in the Constitution,” advocate Sudipta Dasgupta, the lawyer appearing for the petitioner, said.

In the two public meetings, Mamata stressed that her government had followed the due process while passing the OBC Reservation Act.

"We had drafted the bill after conducting a house-to-house survey, and it was passed by the cabinet and the Assembly," Mamata said.

"OBC reservation will continue... This is a temporary dark chapter," she added.

Sources close to the chief minister said she sniffed a political opportunity in opposing the order as bringing in the Muslim sub-castes under OBC reservation had benefited the minorities in the state in terms of securing government jobs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the Calcutta High Court decision a "tight slap" to the Opposition and alleged that the INDIA bloc's "obsession with appeasement" had crossed every limit.

CPM state secretary Md Salim said: "The Left Front government was the first in the country to implement the recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra Committee for 17 per cent OBC reservation.... Since coming to power the Mamata Banerjee government has destroyed the OBC quota by arbitrarily distributing certificates.... We demand that the state government, in light of the high court order, rectifies its error at the earliest."

Back in 2010, the Left's move was triggered by the findings of the Sachar Committee, which had mentioned that 3.5 per cent of Bengal government employees were Muslims. However, a state government report in 2015 claimed that the situation had improved after Muslim sub-castes were given OBC status and the reservation for the OBC category was increased to 17 per cent from 7 per cent.

In its report in 2015, the minority department had claimed that 9.01 per cent of the recruitments made by the West Bengal Public Service Commission between 2011 and 2015 were minorities. Fifteen per cent of the recruitments made by the West Bengal Staff Selection Commission during the same period were minorities, as were 12.5 per cent of the recruitments made by the West Bengal Municipal Service Commission.

Sources pointed out that these three agencies had given jobs to 16,000 people during the four-year period.

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