The Centre's efforts to implement the 27 per cent Other Backward Classes quota in elite educational institutions this year suffered a major setback on Monday with the Supreme Court declining to vacate the stay granted by it on March 29.
A Bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice L S Panta held that its earlier order staying the provision of OBC quota in a Central legislation was "final" as far as the present academic session starting 2007.
Faced with a strident demand from Solicitor General G E Vahanvati for referring the issue to a Constitution Bench, the court said it will examine it at a later date.
On March 29, the two-member Bench had stayed Section 6 of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) in so far as it related to 27 per cent quota for OBCs in institutions like IITs, IIMs and Central universities.
The Bench then had fixed first week of August for hearing the Constitutional validity of the law.
During the one-and-a-half hour long arguments, the Bench repeatedly questioned the government on the need to rush through the implementation when it had waited for 57 long years.
"You had waited for 57 years. Why can't you wait for one more year," Justice Pasayat snapped at the solicitor general, who tried to reason that the implementation would in no way affect the interest of the general category candidates.
The apex court brushed aside the persistent pleas of the solicitor general that implementation of the OBC quota would in no way affect the prospects of the general candidates.
The Bench quoted a sub-section of the act, which contained a provision wherein the Centre was empowered to exempt any of the educational institution from implementing the quota for one reason or other.
Justice Pasayat wondered as to why the court cannot stay the implementation when the government itself has arrogated powers to exempt certain institutions from implementing the quota policy.
"The government rule cannot stand on better footing than the Supreme Court of the country, which enjoys its powers from the Constitution," the Bench remarked.
During the arguments, the Bench initially asserted that its March 29 order was final and not an interim direction as was being interpreted by the government.