MADURAI: After three months of hearings, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court quashed the controversial legislation providing 10.5 per cent internal reservation for Vanniyakula Kshatriyas here on Monday, finding the provision unconstitutional. The court also turned down a plea to suspend the order for a month. In Chennai, the Advocate General R Shunmugasundaram said he would recommend the State government appeal the order.
The Tamil Nadu Special Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions including the private educations and of Appointments or Posts in the Services under the State within the 20 per cent reservation for Most Backward Classes and Denotified Communities Act was enacted by the previous AIADMK government just hours before the notification of Assembly polls. The current DMK government issued an order in July to implement its provisions. Although the legislation fulfilled a long-pending demand of Vanniyars, it was met with strong opposition from other MBC communities and was challenged in the Supreme Court, and the High Court.
Allowing a batch of petitions challenging the Act, which was criticised by other MBC communities, a Division Bench of Justices M Duraiswamy and K Murali Shankar, in the order, said, "We.. find that the legislation is ultra vires the provisions of the Constitution of India and accordingly the same is quashed."
The State legislature has no competency to enact the Act since the 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 2018, which took away the power of State governments to include or exclude communities from the list of backward classes for granting reservation, was still in force when the Bill was introduced in February 2021, the judges said. "The 105th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2021, which restored the power, was enacted only in August 2021," they pointed out.
The judges said that when the Act 45 of 1994, which provides undivided 20 per cent reservation for MBCs and is in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, is in effect, a similar Act providing internal reservation cannot be enacted without amending it. Also, the government has not taken a policy decision to modify the reservation after consulting the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) as mandated by Article 338-B of the Constitution, the Bench added.
As per the report of the Sattanathan Commission of 1970, the population of Vanniyars is higher in northern districts of Tamil Nadu and very low in the southern districts. “In such a case, if 10.5 per cent reservation is given to the Vanniyar caste all over the State, it would prevent the other Most Backward Communities from getting admissions in educational institutions and securing government employment,” they pointed out. Moreover, the report of the chairman of the JA Ambasankar Commission, relied upon by the government, also does not show that Vanniyars are unable to compete with other castes in the MBC or DNT category, the judges noted. Even the Commission constituted by the State government for the collection of quantifiable data on castes in December 2020 has not submitted its report to the government till today, the court pointed out.
Another aspect the Bench considered before arriving at its conclusion was that the sub-classification of Most Backward Classes into three categories had been done solely based on population data in the absence of any objective criteria.
When a counsel requested the Bench to suspend the order for a month by considering that various appointments and selections have already taken place based on the reservation, the judges rejected the plea on the ground it might complicate the issue further. They pointed out that the interim order passed in the case by the Principal Seat clearly mentioned that any such appointments or admissions would be subject to the final outcome of the case.
Stating that he would recommend the order be challenged by the State before the Supreme Court, Shunmugasundaram said the government had records of caste-wise census and any decision on a fresh census could be taken only by the Union government. Citing JA Ambasankar Commission's report of 1985, he said the scenario was very much the same now. The government would go for an appeal for the sake of students, who got school and college admission, based on the said reservation, he added.
Meanwhile the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Tamilaga Valvurimai Katchi (TVK) urged the State government to take steps to ensure the 10.5 per cent reservation is given to Vanniyars. In a statement, PMK founder Dr S Ramadoss expressed shock over HC's order quashing the reservation, which was achieved after protests. He blamed the State government for failing to provide satisfactory explanations on the quota to the court.