Social justice minister Virendra Kumar said Maharashtra can draw up its own list including the Maratha community. MPs also raised the demands of Jats, Patels and Gurjars, among others. “The government understands this sentiment that the cap should be reconsidered because the limit was imposed 30 years ago, but the court has repeatedly taken a stand that the cap should remain. So, there is need to carefully consider its constitutional and legal dimensions. The Indra Sawhney order spoke about breaching it, but only in exceptional circumstances and for communities who are out of the mainstream,” the minister said.
Social justice minister Virendra Kumar skirted demands that a caste census be carried out to correctly determine the proportion of OBCs as also calls that details of the previous socioeconomic caste census be made public. But Kumar negotiated the 50% ceiling issue by professing the Centre’s sympathy while underlining the judicial block that has so far thwarted attempts to provide quotas beyond the limit.
The sensitive demands for removal of 50% cap and an OBC or caste census to estimate the population of Mandal classes formed the core of the debate when LS took up discussion on the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill after three weeks of disruptions. The bill is designed to negate the Supreme Court judgment of May 5 and restore the power of states to identify and maintain the “state list of OBCs”. In his reply, Kumar said Maharashtra will now have the power to draw up state OBC lists that include the Maratha community. Lok Sabha unanimously okayed the bill with no votes against it and 386 in favour. But an amendment moved by Shiv Sena’s Vinayak Raut for freedom to states to breach the 50% cap was negated with only 71 votes in favour.
The political consensus on the bill aside, there were strident demands on the ceiling from the political class barring BJP. The government, through its speakers, said that the intent of the bill was to give OBCs their due even as measures like the economically weaker section quota provides succour to the poor among forwards. BJP speakers argued that the bill is not a one-off measure and follows several pro-OBC decisions, the latest being reservations in All-India Quota in medical colleges. Congress, which has often trod a middle path, led the call for removal of the quota cap, with Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury setting the tone.
He said the Indra Sawhney judgment which had laid down the cap had also noted that it could be overshot in “exceptional circumstances”. He added, “The age-old caste system is responsible for reservation system.” Maratha reservation, which was rejected by the SC in the judgment related to 102nd Constitutional Amendment, found the prime of place in the discussion as Sena’s Raut demanded its enactment as did NCP after it was argued favourably by Chowdhury.
Removal of 50% cap was cited as prime method to enable it, as Raut and others mentioned the pending quota proposals of Jats in Haryana, Patels in Gujarat, Gurjars in Rajasthan and Dhangars in Maharashtra. Environment minister Bhupender Yadav lashed out at Congress for “ignoring the interests of the OBCs” over decades. While he accused Congress of not implementing the Mandal report for a decade, DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran said BJP toppled the VP Singh government because of its decision to implement the Mandal reservations.