Another legal spoke in the bicycle wheel

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Face-off A protest in Allahabad against quota for OBCs in state services, Photo: AFP
Face-off A protest in Allahabad against quota for OBCs in state services, Photo: AFP

Ahead of the crucial 2014 General Election, the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh is faced with a new challenge. The Allahabad High Court has asked the Akhilesh Yadav-led government to explain the basis on which quotas have been fixed for OBCs, SCs and STs in state government jobs.

The court issued the directive on 13 December, while hearing a petition filed by Allahabad-based Komal Singh, challenging the legal validity of the UP Public Service (Reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs) Act, 1994. A division bench of the high court comprising Justice VK Shukla and Justice Suneet Verma gave six weeks to the state’s Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary (Personnel) for filing a counter-affidavit. The next hearing in the case has been slated for 14 February next year.

In its order, the court has asked the state government to provide “specific details” on how it had reached the conclusion that the particular categories of “backward-class citizens are not at all adequately represented” in the state services before enforcing the relevant provisions of the 1994 Act. It has also sought “full details” of “different categories of OBC candidates vis-à-vis their representation in state services in Group A, B, C and D”. According to the court, “backwardness” of each caste has to be objectively considered on the basis of quantifiable data.

The court’s order queers the pitch further for Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, with youth from the Yadav community already up in arms against the state government for revoking the three-tier reservation formula for recruitments by the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission. The three-tier formula had effectively hiked the quota for OBCs to 70 percent from the stipulated 27 percent, and was withdrawn following violent protests in July by youth from unreserved categories in Allahabad and other parts of the state.

The decision to withdraw the controversial formula, however, was strongly opposed by various OBC groups. “The Samajwadi Party has stabbed us in the back. The OBCs will give them a befitting lesson in the 2014 Lok Sabha election,” says Manoj Yadav, convener of the Social Justice Front (SJF), which is spearheading the agitation for the restoration of the three-tier reservation formula. “We have already ensured the defeat of all the candidates of the party’s student wing at the Allahabad University Students Union election held in November. Samajwadi Party candidates for the Lok Sabha election will meet the same fate, at least in Allahabad and other districts in eastern UP. We will vote for any party that can defeat them.”

To press for its demands, the SJF had organised a ‘Reservation Mahapanchyat’ in Allahabad in September.

Earlier, the high court had restrained the state government from implementing the quota for the Yadavs — a dominant caste among the OBCs in the state — and the Jatavs, one of the Scheduled Castes, in recruitment to the state police. That order had come in response to a petition by Sumit Shukla and three other candidates who argued that these caste groups were already adequately represented in the state services and there was no rationale for continuing with reservations for them. It put on hold the Uttar Pradesh government’s plans to recruit more than 41,000 constables before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

“The state government has no recent population data on each caste under the OBC and SC categories that has benefited from reservation,” says Agnihotri Kumar Tripathi, the counsel for the petitioners. “In the M Nagaraj vs Union of India case, regarding reservation in promotions, the Supreme Court had said that it was unconstitutional to implement caste-based reservation without having credible data on the population of various castes.”

Clearly, the ruling Samajwadi Party will find it extremely difficult to retain its support base among OBCs in the days ahead and this is bound to have an impact on the party’s performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

virendranathbhatt@gmail.com

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