SC frowns at pol statements on scrapping of Muslim quota in Karnataka, keeps govt order on implementation in abeyance
New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday voiced displeasure over political statements being made about withdrawal of four per cent quota for Muslims in poll bound Karnataka, after it was told Union Home Minister Amit Shah was making public statements about the hugely contentious issue at the hustings.
Terming as “inappropriate” the political statements about the matter which is sub-judice, the apex court asserted “Some sanctity needs to be maintained”.
The withdrawal of four per cent reservation for Muslims and its reallocation between the politically influential Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities just before the assembly elections has become a hot button issue in the southern state.
“When the matter is pending before the court and there is court order on Karnataka Muslim quota, then there should not be any political statements on the issue. It is not appropriate. Some sanctity needs to be maintained,” a bench of Justices KM Joseph, BV Nagarathna and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the petitioners who have challenged the scrapping of the Muslim quota by the state’s BJP government, said, “Every day the home minister is making statements in Karnataka that they have withdrawn the four per cent Muslim quota. Why should such statements be made?”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Karnataka government, said he is not aware of any such remarks being made. He, however, contended those criticising religion-based quota are not wrong.
“Solicitor General making a statement in the court is not a problem but someone saying anything on a sub-judice matter outside the court is not appropriate. In 1971, a West Bengal political leader was hauled up for contempt for holding a press conference defending a rationing order which was pending before the court,” Justice Joseph said.
“We understand and respect the sentiment of the court,” said Mehta but added as a counsel, “I am saying that any religion-based reservation is unconstitutional”.
Justice Nagarathna also expressed displeasure over statements being made outside the court on the quota issue.
The arguments turned bitter when Dave said statements proudly claiming credit for the withdrawal of Muslim quota were being made every day. An agitated Mehta urged the court to restrain the senior lawyer from making such statements without a context.
“This is the Supreme Court bench and don’t let it be turned into a fish market. This court has to restrain him (Dave) from making such statements. What they (Dave and others) are saying is without any context. They need to show what is the context, what is the content, and tenor of the statements. Let them file an application to this effect, we will file our reply,” he said.
Dave told the court he will file an application and bring it on record what kind of statements are being made.
Mehta said without any application nobody would know what statement has been attributed to him (the Union home minister).
“Please see this statement. The Union home minister said that four per cent reservation for Muslims was unconstitutional and BJP removed it. This amounts to contempt of court,” an angry Dave told the court.
As decibels rose, Justice Joseph asked Dave to not shout or make political statements in the court.
“We will not allow this court to become a political forum. We are not party to it. We cannot allow the issue to be politicised in this manner. We will adjourn the matter,” the bench asserted.
At this juncture, a lawyer appearing for the petitioners told the bench that the BJP has stated in its election manifesto it will do away with four per cent Muslim reservation if voted to power.
The enforcement of the government order on scrapping of the Muslim quota has been kept in abeyance by the Supreme Court.
Replying to the submission, Mehta insisted there is nothing wrong in such a manifesto and, in fact, every political party should include in their manifesto the promise that they will abolish religion-based reservation.
Advocate Ravi Kumar Varma, appearing for Central Muslim Association, made a prayer to restrain the press from publishing such speeches, a contention Mehta opposed, saying media cannot be censored like this.
After heated arguments, the court deferred the hearing till July 25.
Earlier in the day, Mehta and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who is appearing for the Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities, said they needed some accommodation from the hearing as they have to participate in a constitution bench matter on same-sex marriage.
Mehta assured the court that the interim order it had passed keeping in abeyance till May 9, the eve of the polling, the state government’s order of scrapping the Muslim quota will continue.
Dave insisted the implementation of the government’s order be deferred till further orders to which the court agreed.
On April 26, the Karnataka government had told the top court it has taken a “conscious decision” to not continue with Muslim reservation on the sole basis of religion as it is unconstitutional.
The petitioners have challenged two orders of the state government taken at the fag end of its term, drawing criticism that it was trying to shore up its dwindling electoral prospects.
The BJP government had on March 24 decided to abolish the four per cent reservation for Muslims under 2-B category. The four per cent surplus quota was split into two equals halves and distributed among Vokkaligas in 2-C category and Lingayats in 2-D category.
Muslims who were eligible for reservation were categorised under the economically weaker sections.
The state government’s decision has pushed the overall reservation limit to around 57 per cent now.