You must know: Why Supreme Court has quashed the 10.5% reservation for TN's Vanniyar community?

Upholding the order of the Madras High Court, the Supreme Court has on Thursday - March 31 quashed the 10.5% internal reservation granted by the ADMK-ruled Tamil Nadu government to the Vanniyar community in 2021. The apex court has declared the reservation unconstitutional and violates Articles 14 to 16 of the Indian Constitution. 

Ahead of the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, the previous ADMK regime had passed what has become a botched reservation for the Vanniyar community in a bid to reap their votes in the elections. The Vanniyar community was provided with the internal reservation under the existing 20% reservation given to Most Backward Classes (MBCs) by the Tamil Nadu government. While the ADMK government had passed the reservation, it was implemented in July 2021 by the DMK government. 

The reservation act has split the aggregate 20% reservation for MBCs and denotified communities into three separate categories by regrouping castes and provided a 10% plus sub-quota for Vanniyars. However, the reservation was challenged in the Madras High Court and after the trial, the state's highest judicial body has in November 2021 revoked the reservation and declared that it was illegal in the eyes of law and in violation of the Constitution of India. 

After the reservation has faced a fiasco in the state, various stakeholders had challenged the Madras High Court's verdict in the Supreme Court. The bill was aimed to provide the reservation to Vanniyars in government jobs and admission to educational institutions. The apex court's bench consists of judges Justice L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai was hearing the batch of appeals that sought the directive to legalize the reservation.  

However, after the hearings, the Supreme Court bench has on Thursday upheld the verdict of the Madras High Court in revoking the reservation and declared that the latter was unconstitutional. The bench observed that caste can be the basis of internal reservation but it cannot be the sole basis. The Justices said, "We are of the opinion that there is no basis to treat Vanniyars as a separate group compared to others. Thus the 2021 Act is ultra vires to Articles 14 to16 of the Constitution." 

The Supreme Court's verdict has come a month after reserving it. It has reserved the judgment on February 22 and it had earlier rejected the pleas to transfer the matter to a larger bench, by stating that the issue does not need consideration by a larger bench. It has been reported that the petitions were filed by Tamil Nadu state, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which has a strong Vanniyar vote base, and other stakeholders who had challenged the order from the Madras High Court. 

Petitioners had argued that the Madras High Court's order was erroneous in law and the state legislature had the power to provide quota to bring a community into the mainstream. PMK's founder S Ramadoss had submitted that legislation unanimously passed by the state legislature enjoyed the presumption of constitutionality. However, the court has said that the state government has failed to provide data the Vanniyars had to be treated as a separate group within the backward castes.  

The Supreme Court bench said, "It (reservation) is a violation of Article 14,15, and 16 -right to equality, prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. The Vanniyar community is one of the most powerful backward communities in Tamil Nadu. With a prominent presence in the northern belt of Tamil Nadu,  the community has a strong political influence. 

They had become the only community to be given a 10.5% quota within the MBC quota of 20 per cent. As per the quota, 10.5% was awarded to the Vanniyars while more than 100 other communities were to share the rest of the quota. According to reports, Tamil Nadu has 69 per cent reservation, which includes 30 per cent for backward castes, 20 per cent for Most Backward Castes, 18 per cent for Scheduled Caste and 1 per cent for the Scheduled Tribes.