NEW DELHI, June 11 (UPI Asia) -- The Indian government suffered a setback Monday as the Supreme Court refused to lift a lower court's ban on the government's decision to reserve 4.5 per cent seats for Muslims in its educational institutions.
Justices K. S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and J.S. Khehar also slammed the federal government for arguing in favor of the quota without providing supporting documents or explaining the basis of fixing it at 4.5 per cent.
The high court in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh had on May 28 stayed the Indian government's decision to fix the quota for the Muslims as part of a larger 27 per cent quota those belonging to backward Hindu castes.
The Hindu society has for centuries been divided in complex layers of dozens of castes and hundreds of sub-castes. Because of its history of oppressive caste discrimination, the Indian constitution of 1950 legislated quotas for the lowest caste Hindus as well as India's indigenous tribal people.
The 27 per cent quota from which the government has tried to carve out 4.5 per cent for the Muslims was reserved for the so-called other backward castes, of OBCs, in 1990.
Had the Andhra Pradesh high court not blocked the order, it would have reserved seats for Muslims in many prestigious institutes, too, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
The Supreme Court judges hearing the case upbraided the government counsel for suggesting that the high court had done shoddy work by blocking the quotas.
The judges slammed Indian government's Ministry of Human Resource Development, which overseas education, for coming to it seeking an overturn of the high court without any supporting documents and evidence justifying the 4.5 per cent reservations.
The Supreme Court judges asked Attorney General G. E. Vahanvati to Tuesday bring them all documents backing the government's claim. It will hear again Wednesday.
The Bench said it cannot stay the High Court order "unless the government produces material to show a detailed exercise was undertaken to carve out the sub-quota."
The Attorney General started submissions by taking the "blame on his shoulders" for the outcome of the sub-quota policy in the High Court by saying that the "argument was not the most brilliant."
He sought some protection in view of the ongoing counselling for the IITs for which 325 candidates had qualified for it under the 4.5 per cent sub quota and their career and future could be jeopardised if they are not allowed to appear for the counselling.
The judges asked Vahanvati to explain how the government decided the figure of 4.5 per cent.
The government had passed the orders in February, just days before voting to elect legislators in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state with 200 million people.
Opposition parties accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party of trying to curry favors with India's Muslims ahead of legislative elections.
The Congress was routed in the Uttar Pradesh elections.