The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a Tamil Nadu law giving 10.5% reservation to members of Vanniyar community in educational institutions and government jobs, reported Bar and Bench.

A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai also upheld the Madras High Court verdict, holding the 2021 Act unconstitutional. The Tamil Nadu government had moved the Supreme Court against the High Court ruling.

“We are of the opinion that there is no basis to treat Vanniyar as a separate group compared to others,” the High Court said. “Thus, the 2021 Act is ultra vires Articles 14 [equality before law] and 16 [equality of opportunity] of the Constitution.”

The law earmarked 10.5% quota for the community in government jobs and educational institutions within the 20% reservation for the Most Backward Class category in Tamil Nadu. The law meant that other groups in the category could together avail themselves of only 9.5% of the seats.

The law was passed on February 26, 2021, by the previous All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government minutes before the Election Commission announced dates for Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu in April. The decision was seen as a last-minute attempt to sway voters before the Model Code of Conduct came into effect as it bars any new policy decisions.

After the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam came to power, the MK Stalin-led government issued an order in July implementing the quota.

At Thursday’s hearing, the High Court observed that caste can be a basis for providing internal reservations, reported Live Law. But, the court observed that the state government has to justify the reservation and show that caste was not the only criterion for the classification.

The bench said that the state government tried to justify the classification based on a letter issued by Justice Thanikachalam, the chairperson of Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission. Thanikachalam had relied on Janarthanam Commission Report, which was outdated and had no caste-based data.

The High Court held that the state government’s justification for classification was not backed by relevant quantifiable data.