MUMBAI: The Maharashtra government Wednesday submitted in the Bombay High Court that the Constitution grants it powers to identify a community as "backward" and give it reservation.
Senior counsels Mukul Rohatgi and V A Thorat, appearing for the state government, began arguments on petitions challenging a 16 per cent quota to the Maratha community in government jobs and educational institutions granted last year.
One of the main contentions in the petitions is that the Maratha quota takes the overall reservation in the state to 68 per cent, breaching the cap of 50 per cent imposed by the Supreme Court.
Rohatgi, arguing before a bench of justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre, said 50 per cent was not the limit.
"We have quantifiable data to show that the Maratha community is backward and hence, we had to go beyond 50 per cent," Rohatgi said.
"The state government derives its powers from Article 15 and 16 of the Constitution which says it can identify any community as backward and take appropriate measures (for its welfare)," Rohatgi said.
Advocate Thorat argued that the reservation decision was not political but meant to give the community better prospects in government services and education.
The division bench asked whether a President's notification is mandatory for granting reservation as per a 2018 amendment to the Constitution.
"The amendment says reservation to a community can be accorded only after the President issues a notification after studying the issue along with the state's governor," Justice Dangre said.
Rohatgi said the state government has the power to issue its own list of communities which it deems to be backward and in need of reservation.
"The state government cannot wait till the President issues a notification. The state government has powers to make its own list. This can be in addition to the list prepared by the central government," Rohatgi said.
On November 30, 2018, the Maharashtra legislature passed a bill giving 16 per cent reservation to the Marathas following an intense agitation by the community.