Important Judgements In News

Verdict on Maratha reservation ignores inequality within intermediate castes


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Reservation debate

The article highlights the issues with Maratha reservation judgement delivered by the Supreme Court which rejected the positive discrimination of lower classes of dominant caste.

About the verdict

  • The Supreme Court rendered a unanimous verdict on the validity of the SEBC Act, 2018 that was to grant reservation to Marathas.
  • The court held that the classification of Marathas as a socially and educationally backward class was unreasonable.
  • Court held that Maratha belonged to a politically dominant caste with significant economic resources.

Justification for 50% limit

  • The court also concluded that the majority opinion in the Indra Sawhney case was correct and that the limit of 50 per cent for caste-based reservation did not need consideration by a larger bench.
  • The court justified the fixed quantitative limit on caste-based reservation by postulating that it was intrinsic to the fundamental principle of equality.
  • The court highlighted the need to safeguard the interests of unreserved sections and said that all sections have progressed after 70 years of independence.
  • Based on this, the court rejected the state’s argument that the breach of the limit was necessitated by the fact that the population of backward classes was over 80 per cent.

Missed opportunity to acknowledge growing socio-economic differentiation within the dominant castes

Growing income difference

  • If in 2011-12, the average per capita income of the Marathas was second only to the Brahmins at Rs 36,548, against Rs 47,427.
  • Their highest quintile -20 per cent of the caste group- got 48 per cent of the total income of the Marathas with a mean per capita income of Rs 86,750.
  • The lowest quintile earned 10 times less (Rs 7,198) and the 40 per cent poorest got less than 13 per cent of the total income of the caste — and were lagging behind the Scheduled Castes elite.
  • In fact, the mean incomes of the highest Dalit quintile, Rs 63,030, and that of the second-highest, Rs 28,897, were above those of the three lowest quintiles of the Marathas.

What explains growing income difference

  • This is partly due to changes on the education front. 
  • The percentage of graduates among Dalits in 2004-05 was 1.9 per cent and has more than doubled to 5.1 per cent in 2011-12.
  • The corresponding figure for the OBCs was 3.5 per cent and has doubled to 7.6 per cent, while for the Marathas it was 4.6 per cent in 2004-05 and has come up to 8 per cent in 2011-12.
  • Correlatively, the percentage of salaried people among the Dalits was about 28 per cent in Maharashtra in 2011-12, as against 30 per cent among the Marathas.

Issues with the Maratha quota judgment

  •  The Court refused to recognise the need for positive discrimination of the lower classes of the dominant castes which continue to be seen as a dominant bloc.
  • It fails to admit the complexity that the role of class has introduced in post-liberalisation India.
  • This is unequivocal confirmation of a dated approach to social realities and a purely arithmetic limit that finds no expression in the Constitution.
  • The judgement also raises the issue of judicial supremacy in the broad area of social policy as it could lead to undesirable exclusion of beneficiaries.
  • The court seems to have forgotten its own observation in NM Thomas case that functional democracy postulates participation of all sections of the people and fair representation in administration is an index of such participation.


The Supreme Court has rejected the determination of Marathas as backward by holding that their relative deprivation and under-representation with regard to other sections of the general category did not entitle them to affirmative action.

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