The Supreme Court on Tuesday scrapped the then UPA Government’s pre-election decision to include Jats of nine States as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) for reservation benefits in Central Government services and educational institutions.
Not finding Jats to be “socially backward”, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court said, “A decision as grave and important as involved in the present case which impacts the rights of many under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution must be taken on the basis of contemporaneous inputs and not outdated and antiquated data.”
However, this would not affect the existing Jat reservation prevailing in eight States for over a decade. Union Rural Development Minister and Jat strongman Birender Singh questioned the verdict and informed that Jat organisations will appeal against the verdict.
“This is a court’s decision, but on the basis of societal demarcations, if Yadavs and Gujjars can get reservations, why not Jats? The Jat organisations will protest against this ruling and appeal against it,” Singh said.
The Central notification issued on March 4, 2014 included Jats of Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan (Dholpur and Bhartapur districts only), Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand under the Central List of OBCs. Several individuals and political organisations challenged the notification alleging it to be a political decision not aligned with ground realities as the decision was taken at a Union Cabinet just a day prior to announcement of the Lok Sabha elections.
Moreover, the Centre acted contrary to the February 26, 2014 recommendation of National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) which found Jats ineligible for inclusion in the OBC list.
Even in 1997, Jats were found ineligible by NCBC to be declared OBC. On scrutiny of the objections raised by the petitions, the Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohington F Nariman agreed that the Union could not discard the opinion of a statutory body like NCBC for holding a different view. It found that the data considered by the Cabinet related to decade-old reports and recommendations (except Haryana) with no recent study conducted to assess backwardness of Jats.
“Outdated statistics cannot provide accurate parameters for measuring backwardness for the purpose of inclusion in the list of OBCs. This is because one may legitimately presume progressive advancement of all citizens on all fronts — social, economic, and educational. Any other view would amount to retrograde governance,” said the Bench. Putting the Cabinet decision to strict scrutiny, the apex court found that the test adopted “appears” to be educational backwardness, which was the “basic fallacy” in the Government decision.
The court also took a critical view of the fact that in last two decades “there have been only inclusions in the Central as well as State OBC lists and hardly any exclusion” which was never the Constitutional scheme. “The facts that stare at us indicate a Government affirmation of such negative governance as decade old decisions not to treat Jats as backward…have been reopened.”
The court cited the example of transgenders being considered as OBC (as per a recent SC verdict) to observe, “New practices, methods, and yardsticks have to be continuously evolved moving away from caste-centric definition of backwardness.”
The court even laid down that backwardness must cease to be relative where possible wrong inclusions in the past should not become gateways for further inclusions. This was in reference to the justification offered by one of the States where reservation for Gujjars was shown to be a justification to provide OBC status for Jats as well.