New Delhi, March 17 The Supreme Court, refusing to accept the central government’s view that Jats are a backward community, on Tuesday quashed the March 4, 2014, notification by the then UPA government extending reservations to the community’s members in nine states.
Jat community leaders expressed shock at the verdict and some said they will seek a review.
A bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said: “We cannot agree with the view taken by the union government that Jats in the nine states in question are a backward community so as to be entitled to inclusion in the Central List of Other Backward Classes.”
“We must hold that inclusion of the politically organized classes (such as Jats) in the list of backward classes mainly, if not solely, on the basis that on same parameters, other groups who have fared better have been so included, cannot be affirmed”, said Justice Gogoi pronouncing the judgment.
While the UPA government extended reservation benefits in education and government employment to the Jat community, ignoring the recommendation of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) to the contrary, the decision was also endorsed by the Narendra Modi government, which brushed aside the suggestion that it was rooted in electoral exigencies of the previous government.
On determination of backwardness, the court said that “the gates would be opened only to permit entry of the most distressed. Any other inclusion would be a serious abdication of the constitutional duty of the state”.
It held backwardness “a manifestation caused by the presence of several independent circumstances which may be social, cultural, economic, educational or even political” and that due to “historical conditions, particularly in Hindu society, recognition of backwardness has been associated with caste”.
It is the identification of “new emerging groups” that “must engage the attention of the state” and the “constitutional power and duty must be concentrated” to discover such groups rather than to enable groups recover “lost ground” in claiming preference and benefits on the basis of historical prejudice.
Holding the March 4, 2014 notification as not justified, the court said: “The view taken by the NCBC to the contrary is adequately supported by good and acceptable reasons which furnished a sound and reasonable basis for further consequential action” by the government.
“Accordingly… the aforesaid notification… including the Jats in the Central List of Other Backward Classes for the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, NCT of Delhi, Bharatpur and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand is set aside and quashed,” it said, ruling on a batch of petitions challenging the notification.
Pointing out that the date on which the exercise of extending reservation is undertaken “has to be contemporaneous”, the court said that most of the data, except in the case of Haryana, was at least a decade old and hauled up the government for “negative governance”.
Jat community leaders and other political figures reacted immediately given the high political stakes involved with the Jat community votes in various states.
Leaders in Haryana, where Jats are the politically dominant community and account for nearly 25 percent of the opulation, treaded cautiously, saying they would first examine the apex court judgment before making any observation.
“Our government will examine the Supreme Court decision. Only then we will be able to say something,” said Finance Minister Captain Abhimanyu on Tuesday.
He said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believed in allowing reservation for those who were socially and economically lagging.
Jat leaders in Rajasthan, where the community accounts for 14-15 percent of the state’s population, expressed shock.
“We are shocked. Though I have not gone through the judgment, Jats are synonymous with farmers and I feel farmers are backward and deserve to get reservation. I think the case most probably has not been put forward in the proper way before the Supreme Court,” said prominent Jat leader Gyanparakash Pilania, a former director general of the Rajasthan Police.
Congress leader Rameshwar Dudi, leader of opposition in the assembly, said: “They deserve to get reservation. I am strongly of the opinion that the central government should file a review petition at the earliest.”
In neighbouring Punjab, the Punjab Jatt (as Jats are called in the state and where they are a land-owning class) Mahasabha said it would soon file a revision petition in the Supreme Court against the verdict.
Mahasabha president Kushaldeep Dhillon said legal options would be explored to defend the case, and blasted the Modi government for “deliberately weakening the case” in the court by not presenting the “true facts”.