Quota issue referred to larger apex court bench

New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday decided to refer to a larger bench the task of examining the legal and constitutional validity of a law for reserving 27 percent seats for Other Backward Classes (OBC) students in elite educational institutions.

The bench of Justice Arjit Pasayat and Justice L.S. Panta said that the composition and number of judges on the bench would be decided by the Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan.

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Counsels arguing the quota issue from various sides indicated that the number of judges on the larger bench should be at least five as the central government wanted the matter to be heard by at least a five-judge bench.

Despite the bench deciding to refer the matter to a larger bench, it has spelled a setback for the central government’s plan to ensure 27 percent reservation in higher educational institutions from the current academic year itself as any bench is unlikely to finish hearing the pleas by various parties in time to give a verdict before the start of the academic session.

Even otherwise the two-month long summer vacations for the apex court starts May 19 and the bench of Justice Pasayat and Justice Panta had earlier given eight weeks to various parties to conclude their pleadings.

Earlier, the bench had accepted a comprehensive set of over three dozen questions related to the constitutionality of the Constitution (93rd amendment) Act and the related parliamentary legislation, the Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admissions) Act, 2006.

The questions that are to be decided by the larger bench include the justification of reservation after 57 years of independence and on the constitutional right of equality.

In case, the court favours continuation of reservation policy for the weaker section of society, it would delve into the basis on which the quota has to be provided – if it should be economic backwardness or social and educational backwardness.

Other questions to be examined are those related to the yardstick to measure backwardness, the basis of identification of beneficiaries and if the reservation should be extended to the creamy layers amongst various backward classes.