POLITICS
10/07/2019 5:31 PM IST | Updated 10/07/2019 7:05 PM IST

Mumbai Lawyer Opposing Maratha Reservations Says Bombay HC Verdict Had Serious Lapses

Gunaratne Sadavarte, who has been fighting against reservations for the powerful Maratha community, on why the high court’s order threatens the foundation of India’s Constitution

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Maratha community members celebrate after Bombay High Court upheld the community's reservation last week

NAGPUR, Maharashtra: The Bombay High Court verdict last month that upheld the Maharashtra government’s decision granting reservations to Marathas was a violation of judicial discipline, said Gunaratne Sadavarte, the lawyer who moved court against the Maratha reservation bill on behalf of his wife Jayashri Patil. 

Sadavarte was speaking to HuffPost India two days before the Supreme Court is due to hear a bunch of petitions challenging the verdict.

The high court judgment, delivered by a two-judge bench headed by Justice Ranjit More, had backed the controversial decision by the Devendra Fadnavis-led government but recommended reducing the quota percentage from 16% to 12-13%.  

This takes the overall reservation percentage in the state to 64-65% for education and government jobs, far higher than the 50% bar on quotas set by the Supreme Court. 

Sadavarte’s wife Patil, who is also a lawyer, was the lead petitioner against Maratha reservations in the high court and the couple has faced threats and physical attacks for standing up to the politically, socially and economically dominant community in Maharashtra.

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“I have serious grievances about judicial discipline in this case. Justice Ranjit More should have constituted another bench in this case and should not have gone ahead with this verdict. I am not raising an objection to the fact that  Justice More is himself a Maratha but judicial discipline is important and it was not followed in this case,” said Sadavarte.

Political scientist Suhas Palshikar wrote in The Indian Express on Wednesday that the judgment raised serious questions, including the lack of transparency around the Gaikwad Commission report, whose recommendations were accepted by the government.

“Can such a far-reaching policy be undertaken without the public having access to the findings of the Commission and without the courts having the benefit of public discussions? Can secrecy and urgency be the basis for policies?” he wrote.

Sadavarte said that reservations are meant for uplifting sections of the population facing discrimination, and not to used as a poverty alleviation measure.

“12 out of 18 chief ministers of Maharashtra have been from the Maratha community. This (reservation movement) is nothing but using muscle power and pressurising the government. This is going to create difficulty to the very foundation of the Constitution,” he added.

In an interview with HuffPost India in January, Patil had explained why they were continuing to fight a tough battle even while receiving multiple threats.

“We are not going to back off. We will continue this fight because permitting reservation to cross 50% ceiling will be unconstitutional. Even Dr. Ambedkar said that reservation should always be minoritarian,” he had said.

The dominant and well-to-do Maratha community constitutes almost one-third of the population of Maharashtra, which is set to vote in assembly elections in a few months.

Protesters from the community had hit the streets numerous times demanding reservations, which had been promised to them by multiple governments and was first granted through an ordinance by the Congress-NCP government in 2014. After this was blocked by first the high court and then the Supreme Court, the Fadnavis government had been under pressure to give in to the influential community’s demands. Last year, it accepted the Gaikwad Commission’s recommendations and announced the quota.

Sadavarte, who had fought against the reservation announcement in 2014 as well, also alleged political conspiracies behind the entire Maratha reservation saga.

After the high court verdict, Sadavarte immediately moved the Supreme Court. His plea is among a bunch of petitions, including one by the anti-reservation front Youth for Equality, which will be heard on Friday by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.