Mumbai: The Maharashtra Legislature on Thursday passed a bill proposing 16 per cent reservation in education and government jobs for Marathas, declared as socially and educationally backward class (SEBC) by the government.

The reservation will be in addition to the existing 52 per cent reservation in the state. The reservation quantum in the state will rise to 68 per cent, with the passage of the bill. Marathas not in the ‘creamy layer’ would be eligible for the reservations.

With the passage of the Maratha quota bill, the reservation quantum in Maharashtra will rise to 68 per cent, just a per cent less than Tamil Nadu, which tops the tally with 69 per cent reservations in various categories. Haryana, which offers 67 per cent reservations, now stands third on the list.

While the Bill has been unanimously passed in the state assembly, it is yet to pass the judicial test with the reservation already crossing the 50 per cent cap set by the Supreme Court in 1992.

While the Maharashtra government has cited the example of Tamil Nadu where the reservations have gone up to 69 per cent, constitutional experts believe that the comparison cannot be made as Tamil Nadu got the bill passed in the 9th schedule of the Constitution, which gives it protection from a judicial questioning.

But things are not easy now as the top court in 2007 mandated court’s close scrutiny of new entry in the Ninth Schedule.

Earlier this month, an Economic Times report cited a Maharashtra government official admitting that there were legal challenges to that bill.

“We are aware that there would be challenges but we hope that the Marathas would see that we have been honest in our approach and have tried hard for getting the bill cleared,” the official was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, an OBC organisation said Thursday that it would challenge the decision in the court.

“The quota for Marathas will surely affect the existing OBC reservation. So we have decided to approach the court,” said J D Tandel, vice president of Panvel-Uran Aagri Samaj Mandal and OBC Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti.

Another OBC leader demanded that the government conduct a caste-wise census in the state.

“How can we believe that there are 30 per cent Marathas in the state? The number is definitely less than that, so the government should conduct a caste-wise census,” said Bhushan Bare of the Kunbi Samaj Unnati Sangh.

Another challenge ahead is the Kunbi community. A sub caste of the Maratha community which is considered backward, the community claims that the Marathas actually number only around 12 per cent out of the estimated 30 per cent.

So, the Maharashtra government’s decision to give 16 per cent reservation to the Maratha community claiming that they are 30 per cent of the state’s population would be legally challenged.

Asked about the SC cap on reservations, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “There is no such provision for a ceiling on quota in the Constitution. On the contrary, the Constitution provides for quota under extraordinary and exceptional cases, when a community’s backwardness is documentarily established”.

On the other hand, Indian Express quoted a senior lawyer saying that while there is no provision in the Constitution for a cap on reservation, it has to be under “exceptional and extraordinary cases”.

“Since the Maharashtra government substantiated the quota based on findings of the MSBCS, it will conform to Constitutional norms. But there is still ambiguity about the legal aspect. The Tamil Nadu matter is pending before the Supreme Court. Therefore, a final verdict on whether the state government can exceed 50% reservation remains a question mark,” Indian Express quoted him as saying.

On the other hand, Maharashtra ministers hailed the passage of the Bill on Maratha reservation as historic and sounded confident it will stand judicial scrutiny even as the opposition attributed the measure to the long struggle by the community.

While the demands for reservations from politically-influential communities – be it Jats in Haryana or Patidars in Gujarat – are against the constitutional restrictions on quotas, parties find it difficult to go against them.

Marathas constitute more than 30% of the state population, and they have been agitating for reservation for the past two years. However, things turned violent this year as protests broke out in many parts of the state apart from many cases of suicides.