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Calcutta High Court cancels OBC certificates for 77 groups, Mamata Banerjee rejects order as it will impact her ‘Muslim’ vote bank


The Calcutta high court on Wednesday scrapped other backward classes (OBCs) certificates awarded to 77 communities since 2010, an overwhelming majority of them Muslim, and called the classification process illegal, marking a significant verdict that came as a blow to the ruling Trinamool Congress in the middle of ongoing general elections.

The judgment sparked a political controversy with chief minister Mamata Banerjee saying she won’t accept the ruling, and Union home minister Amit Shah accusing the Bengal government of appeasement.

In 2011, Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool government came to power in the state. Through this judgment of the Calcutta HC, all the OBC certificates issued under the Mamata Banerjee government were canceled. After hearing this, the Chief Minister of West Bengal said she “will not accept” the order, which will ‘take away the rights granted to Tapashili community’.

Furthermore, Mamata Banerjee said, “PM Modi had claimed that Muslims after winning will cancel the reservations for Tapashilis. It was a divisive agenda again. And this is what they got the court to do today. I respect the courts. But I do not accept the judgment that says Muslims should be kept out of OBC reservation. OBC reservations will continue. We will go to a higher court if need be.” She added, “We had drafted the Bill after conducting a house-to-house survey, and it was passed by the cabinet and the assembly… The BJP had conspired to stall it but they lost in court.”

Roughly 500,000 people are likely to be affected by the judgment. The court barred the state from appointing people from these communities with immediate effect but said those appointed so far on the basis of OBC certificates will not be touched.

“This court is of the view that the selection of 77 classes of Muslims as Backward is an affront to the Muslim community as a whole. This court’s mind is not free from doubt that the said community has been treated as a commodity for political ends,” said a division bench of justices Tapabrata Chakraborty and Rajasekhar Mantha.

“Identification of the classes in the aid community as OBCs for electoral gains would leave them at the mercy of the concerned political establishment and may defeat and deny other rights. Such reservation is therefore also an affront to Democracy and the Constitution of India as a whole,” the order added.

West Bengal provides 17% percent OBC reservation, divided into two buckets — OBC A which has 10% and 81 communities, out of which 56 are Muslims, and OBC B which has 7% and 99 communities, out of which 41 are Muslims.

Muslims are a key demographic in the 17 Lok Sabha seats that will go to the polls in the sixth and seventh phases of the general elections in Bengal. The TMC holds 12of these and the BJP seven.

The court also struck down key sections of the 2012 law that subclassified the OBC pool.

Of the 77 communities, 42 were earmarked for OBC status by the erstwhile Left Front government in 2010, a year before it was ousted by Banerjee’s TMC. Out of these, 41 were Muslims, said the court. The other 35 — 34 of which were Muslim, according to the verdict — were included by the TMC government via a notification on May 11, 2012.

The order is a blow to the TMC, which counts Muslims as a key vote base and under whose regime the reservation benefits materialised. Chairman of West Bengal Imams Association Md Yahiya, said: “We don’t think this verdict follows the spirit of the Constitution. Why is everybody concerned only about OBC-A reservation? Why similar questions are being raised on reservation for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe people?”

“The authorities have violated the constitutional provisions and had practised protective discrimination in deviation to the constitutional norms. No data was disclosed on the basis of which it was ascertained that the concerned community is not adequately represented in the services under the government of West Bengal,” said the court.

The high court said the backward classes welfare department of Bengal along with the backward classes commission will place a report before the legislature with recommendations, for inclusion of new classes or for exclusion of the remaining classes, in the state list of OBCs.

The order came on petitions filed by three individuals and Atmadeep, a human rights organisation, between 2010 and 2020.

The petitioners alleged that reservations under both OBC-A (most backward) and OBC-B (backward) categories were awarded to many communities since 2011, when TMC came to power, without any evaluation of their economic status.

Besides, NCBC chairperson Hansraj Gangaram Ahir found that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar’s Rohingya had made their way into the beneficiaries list. He said state officials initially claimed that these were Hindus who had later converted to Islam. Asked for proof, they slinked away.

Earlier, a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court under CJI YK Sabharwal had stated that the concerned State will have to “show in each case the existence of the compelling reasons, namely, backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency before making provision for reservation…the State has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment in addition to compliance of Article 335.”



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