1. FACTS
  2. Background: On November 29, 2018, the Maharashtra Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act was enacted, which granted reservations to the Maratha community in educational institutions and public services. The Act exceeded the 50% quota limit set by the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney v Union of India case.
  3. Challenges in the High Court: Several petitions were filed before the Bombay High Court, challenging the constitutional validity of the Maharashtra SEBC Act, 2018. The petitions argued that the Act violated Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 16 (Equality of Opportunity in Public Employment), and Article 19 (Protection of Certain Rights Regarding Freedom of Speech, etc.) of the Indian Constitution.
  4. High Court’s decision: The Bombay High Court, in its judgment dated June 27, 2019, upheld the Maharashtra SEBC Act, 2018, except for the reservation percentages that exceeded the recommendations of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission. The High Court directed the government to reduce the reservation from 16% to 12% in education and 13% in employment, as recommended by the Commission.
  5. Appeals to the Supreme Court: Multiple appeals were filed before the Supreme Court of India against the Bombay High Court’s verdict. The matter was referred to a larger bench of five judges in September 2020 to address various legal issues, including the interpretation of the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018.
  6. Constitution Bench hearing: The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court heard the case from March 15, 2021, to March 26, 2021. The bench divided the case into different sections, covering framed questions, factual background, High Court’s considerations, party submissions, review of the Indra Sawhney judgment, the status of the reservation during the enactment of the Act, and other related topics.
  7. Judgment: On May 5, 2021, the Supreme Court pronounced its judgment. The Court declared the reservation provided to the Maratha community by the Maharashtra SEBC Act, 2018, as unconstitutional. The Court held that the Act violated the 50% ceiling limit on reservations set by the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney case. It also observed that the state government did not provide exceptional circumstances to exceed the limit.
  8. Impact: The judgment has significant implications for the reservation policies in Maharashtra and the interpretation of constitutional provisions related to reservations. It establishes the need for reservations to adhere to the 50% limit and highlights the importance of exceptional circumstances for exceeding the limit.

1.  Considering subsequent Constitutional Amendments, judicial decisions, and the evolving dynamics of society, there is a compelling argument for referring the Indra Sawhney judgment to a larger bench for a comprehensive review.

2.  Does the Maharashtra SEBC Act, 2018 (as amended in 2019), which grants additional reservation of 12% and 13% for the Maratha community on top of the 50% reservation, align with the concept of “exceptional circumstances” defined in the Indra Sawhney judgment, thus permitting a deviation from the prescribed 50% limit?

3.  Has the Maharashtra State Backward Commission Report, led by M.C. Gaikwad, provided substantial evidence to establish the presence of extraordinary situations and exceptional circumstances in the state, thereby justifying an exception as outlined in the Indra Sawhney judgment?

4.   Does the 102nd Amendment to the Constitution curtail the legislative authority of the State Legislature in enacting laws pertaining to the identification of socially and economically backward classes and the provision of associated benefits?

5.   Are the powers of the States to legislate on matters concerning “any backward class” under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) restricted in any manner by the provisions of Article 342A, in conjunction with Article 366(26c) of the Constitution of India?

6.  Does Article 342A of the Constitution undermine the ability of the States to legislate or categorize in relation to “any backward class of citizens,” thus potentially impacting the federal structure enshrined in the Constitution of India?


Contentions raised by one side:

  1. The reservation law exceeded the prescribed limit of 50% as established in the Indra Sawhney v. India proceedings, rendering it unconstitutional.
  2. The report provided by the Guy Quad Commission, which formed the basis of the law, was flawed and lacked a solid scientific foundation.
  3. The law violated the provisions of Articles 14, 16, and 19 of the Indian Constitution by providing exclusive reservations solely to the Maratha community.
  4. The law was enacted without adhering to the requisite conditions set forth by the 102nd Constitutional Amendment of India.

Contentions raised by the opposing side:

  1. The argument put forth was that the interpretation of the term “central” in Article 342A(2) was aimed at restricting the President’s publication of the list to only apply to central services.
  2. Article 342A, introduced through Article 102 of the Constitutional Amendment, conferred constitutional status upon the National Committee on the Underclass and empowered the Presidents to publish a list encompassing socially and educationally backward classes. It was argued that regulations governing employment related to this list should fall within the purview of the Government of India and its associated entities.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Maratha reservation case drew upon a range of crucial factors and legal principles. Upholding established precedents[1], the court reaffirmed the longstanding norm of limiting reservations to a maximum of 50% as outlined in Article 15(4) of the Indian Constitution. The court stressed the primacy of achieving equality and cautioned against exceeding this threshold, as it could undermine the very essence of equality and risk perpetuating a society driven by caste considerations rather than fostering genuine egalitarianism.

With a strong focus on the democratic foundations of the Indian system, the court underscored the need for striking a reasonable balance to uphold equality, as enshrined in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. It emphasized that surpassing the reservation limit without exceptional circumstances would significantly impede the admission of deserving candidates from the general category into public employment, thereby compromising the overall efficiency of state operations.

Unanimously, the Supreme Court concluded that there were no compelling or extraordinary circumstances justifying the allocation of more than 50% reservation to the Maratha community as a socially and economically backward class. The court emphasized the necessity of basing reservations on a meticulous evaluation of objective factors, including considerations of administrative efficacy, and cautioned against disproportionately favoring any particular community.

Regarding the constitutional amendments introduced by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018, the court acknowledged the absence of authoritative interpretations regarding the state government’s authority to designate a caste as socially and educationally backward. However, the court determined that until the President issues a notification, the existing arrangement would remain in force and no changes would be implemented.

The court acknowledged divergent opinions among the judges regarding whether the 102nd Constitutional Amendment curtailed the states’ power to identify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs). While the majority opinion held that the power now rests with the President, Justice Bhushan and Justice Nazeer dissented, arguing that Parliament did not intend to strip states of their authority in this regard.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s rationale for its judgment rested on upholding the principle of equality, adhering to the 50% reservation limit, and ensuring that reservation policies are based on exceptional circumstances and rational considerations. The court emphasized the importance of adopting a balanced approach that upholds meritocracy while addressing social and educational backwardness in a fair and equitable manner.


One drawback of the judgment is the limited clarity provided regarding the constitutional amendments introduced by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018. The court’s observation on this matter suggests the need for further interpretation and clarification of the provisions related to the authority of state governments in identifying socially and educationally backward classes. This lack of comprehensive clarity leaves room for ambiguity and potential disputes in the future. Without a well-defined framework for the implementation and administration of reservation policies, there is a risk of inconsistent interpretation and application of the law across different states.

Another potential drawback arises from the divergence of opinions among the judges on certain aspects of the case, particularly in the interpretation of the 102nd Constitutional Amendment. This divergence implies that different judges may hold varying perspectives on the validity and implementation of reservation policies. Consequently, there may be inconsistency in the application of the law, leading to confusion and potential challenges in implementing the reservation system uniformly across different regions of the country. This inconsistency can undermine the effectiveness and fairness of the reservation system, as it may result in unequal treatment of similarly situated individuals or groups.

Additionally, the judgment did not thoroughly address the argument presented by the petitioners regarding the lack of reliable and scientific data supporting the backwardness of the Maratha community. The court’s decision did not extensively examine the evidence presented by the petitioners, raising concerns about the basis on which the reservation policy was formulated. Without a thorough evaluation of the supporting data, there may be doubts regarding the adequacy and validity of the information used to justify the need for increased reservations for the Maratha community.

Furthermore, the potential adverse impact of the Maratha reservation on the principle of meritocracy and the competitive selection process was not adequately addressed in the judgment. Critics argue that excessive reservations may lead to less qualified candidates securing positions, which could compromise the overall quality and efficiency of public institutions. While the judge acknowledged the importance of maintaining a balance in reservation policies, it did not provide a comprehensive analysis of the potential repercussions of merit-based selection processes. A more thorough consideration of these implications would have contributed to a more well-rounded judgment.


The Supreme Court’s verdict deeming the Maratha reservation unconstitutional is a momentous development with profound ramifications. It reaffirms the court’s unwavering dedication to upholding the principle of egalitarianism enshrined in the Indian Constitution and preserving a judicious equilibrium in reservation policies. The court’s adherence to the 50% reservation threshold and its emphasis on extraordinary circumstances for surpassing this limit demonstrate a cautious approach to prevent potential misuse or dilution of reservation benefits.

In the case of Dr Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the judiciary extensively deliberated upon and invoked a series of pivotal precedents. Primarily, the landmark judgment of Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, popularly known as the Mandal Commission case, played a central role in defining the boundaries of reservation in government employment and educational institutions. Within its ambit, the Supreme Court championed the cardinal principle that reservation, as articulated in Article 16(4) of the Indian Constitution, should not transcend the 50% threshold, except under extraordinary circumstances. Another noteworthy precedent, M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore, elucidated the concept of reservation quantum, asserting that exceeding the 50% benchmark would undermine the essence of Article 15(4) and Article 16(4), fostering a society ensnared in the quagmire of caste-based dominance rather than nurturing genuine equality. Furthermore, the court invoked the M. Nagaraj v. Union of India[2] ruling, which upheld the tenets established in the Indra Sawhney case and reasserted that breaching the 50% reservation limit should only occur in exceptional circumstances or when compelling justifications exist. These precedents formed the cornerstone of legal analysis in assessing the constitutionality of the Maratha reservation law, thereby shaping the court’s ultimate decision in the present case.

The court’s recognition of democracy as an indispensable component of the Indian system underscores its commitment to fostering a fair and inclusive society. It underscores the perils of caste-based dominance and the significance of creating a level playing field for all citizens. The court’s emphasis on administrative efficiency and the potential adverse impact of excessive reservations on overall functioning demonstrate its concern for the effective operation of the state.

The court’s observations regarding the constitutional amendments introduced by the Constitution (102nd Amendment) Act, 2018, underscore the need for further elucidation and interpretation of the provisions pertaining to the authority of state governments in identifying socially and educationally backward classes. This aspect raises questions about the power dynamics between the states and the central government in reservation policies, necessitating the establishment of clear roles and responsibilities. The divergence of opinions among the judges on certain aspects of the case, such as the interpretation of the 102nd Constitutional Amendment, highlights the intricacies involved in grappling with reservation issues. It underscores the ongoing need for legal discourse and potential future challenges to refine and clarify the framework governing reservations.

All in all, the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Maratha reservation case represents a significant stride in maintaining a delicate balance between affirmative action and meritocracy. It underscores the importance of evaluating reservation policies based on reasonableness, exceptional circumstances, and the overarching objective of achieving equality and social justice. The ruling provides guidance not only within the context of the Maratha reservation but also in shaping future reservation policies and their constitutional validity in India.


  1. “Maratha Reservation Law Struck Down by the Supreme Court for Exceeding a 50% Cap” by Lawyers Club India: https://www.lawyersclubindia.com/judiciary/dr-jaishri-laxmanrao-patil-vs-the-chief-minister-ors-maratha-reservation-law-was-struck-down-by-the-supreme-court-for-exceeding-a-50-cap-5201.asp (Last Visited on 19/ 06/2023)
    1. “M/s. Dr. Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil Vs. The Chief Minister & Ors.” on Indian Kanoon: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/178905262/ (Last Visited on 19/ 06/2023)
    1. “Maratha Reservation Case: A Balance Between Social Justice and Constitutional Validity” by Legal Bites: https://www.legalbites.in/maratha-reservation-case-a-balance-between-social-justice-and-constitutional-validity/(Last Visited on 19/ 06/2023)
    1. Maratha Reservation Case: Key Arguments and Highlights of the Verdict” by Lawctopus: https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/maratha-reservation-case-key-arguments-and-highlights-of-the-verdict/(Last Visited on 19/ 06/2023)
    1. “Maratha Quota & Co-operative Societies Cases: Divergent Views of Supreme Court on Need for Ratification of 97th & 102nd Constitutional Amendments” by Ashok Kini on LiveLaw: https://www.livelaw.in/columns/maratha-quota-co-operative-societies-cases-divergent-views-supreme-court-ratification-97th-102nd-constitutional-amendments-178820 (Last Visited on 19/ 06/2023)
    1. “Maratha Reservation Case Analysis – Dr. Jaishri Laxmanrao v. Chief Minister” by Sanjay Rawat on Social Law Today: https://sociallawstoday.com/maratha-reservation-case-analysis-dr-jaishri-laxmanrao-v-chief-minister/ (Last Visited on 19/ 06/2023)
    1. “Maratha quota hearing: Only EWS quota may remain, but these are policy matters, says SC” in The Indian Express, (Last Visited on 19/ 06/2023)
    1. Establishing Equality in Place of Caste: SC’s Observations in the case of Dr. Jaishree Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister” by IPleaders: https://blog.ipleaders.in/establishing-equality-place-caste-rule-scs-observations-case-dr-jaishree-laxmanrao-patil-v-chief-minister/ (Last Visited on 19/ 06/2023)

Rhythm Sharma

Aligarh Muslim University

[1] M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore, AIR 1963 SC 649 and Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, (1992) Supp 3 SCC 217

[2] M. Nagaraj v. Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 212