Important Judgments on Reservation in India


April 27, 2018

In this article we have elucidated on five important judgments that aid in streamlining the law pertaining to caste based reservation in India.


Also read Constitution Bench to Re-look Issue of Reservation in Promotion

State of Madras v. Smt. Champakan Dorairajan [1951] S.C.R. 525

In the case by virtue of certain orders issued prior to coming into force of the Constitution, popularly known as ‘Communal G.O.’ seats were apportioned in the Medical and Engineering Colleges in the State of Madras.

Even after the advent of the Constitution, the G.O. was being acted upon which was challenged by the Respondent as violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed to her by Articles 15(1) and 29(2) of the Constitution of India.

A Special Bench of Seven Judges heard the matter and came to the unanimous conclusion that the allocation of seats in the manner aforesaid is violative of Articles 15(1) and 29(2) inasmuch as the refusal to admit the respondent notwithstanding her higher marks, was based only on the ground of caste.

The Supreme Court in the case pointed out that while in the case of employment under the State, Article 16(4)  provides for reservations in favour of backward class of citizens, no such provision was made in Article 15.

Pursuant to Supreme Court’s order in the case the Parliament intervened amended Article 15 by inserting Clause (4), which reads:

Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.]

M.R. Balaji and Ors. v. State of Mysore [1963] Suppl. 1 S.C.R. 439

In this case, in the State of Karnataka, reservations were in force since a few decades prior to the advent of the Constitution and were being continued even thereafter. The State of Mysore issued an order under Article 15(4) of the Constitution declaring all the communities except the Brahmin community as socially and educationally backward and reserving a total of 75 per cent seats in Educational Institutions in favour of SEBCs and SCs/STs. Such orders were being issued every year, with minor variation in the percentage of reservations. Later a similar order was issued wherein 68 per cent of the seats in all Engineering and Medical Colleges and Technical Institutions in the State were reserved in the favour of the SEBCs, SCs and STs. SEBCs were again divided into two categories-backward classes and more backward classes.

Thus, the validity of the impugned order was questioned under Article 32 of the Constitution.

The Five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court while striking down the said order, enunciated the following principles:-

(1) Article 15(4) is a proviso or an exception to Clause (1) of  Article 15 and to Clause (2) of Article 29

(2) For the purpose of Article 15(4), backwardness must be both social and educational. Though caste in relation to Hindus may be a relevant factor to consider, in determining the social backwardness of a class of citizens, it cannot be made the sole and dominant test. Christians, Jains and Muslims do not believe in caste system; the test of caste cannot be applied to them. Inasmuch as identification of all backward classes under the impugned order has been made solely on the basis of caste, it is bad.

(3) The reservation made under Article 15(4) should be reasonable. It should not be such as to defeat or nullify the main Rule of equality contained in Clause (1). While it is not possible to predicate the exact permissible percentage of reservations, it can be stated in a general and broad way that they should be less than 50 per cent.

(4) A provision under Article 15(4) need not be in the form of legislation; it can be made by an executive order.

(5) The further categorisation of backward classes into backward and more backward is not warranted by Article 15(4).

Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (AIR 1993 SC 477)

This case is also commonly referred to as the Mandal Commission Case– In this case, the Nine-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court enumerated the following essential points pertaining to reservation in Government employment under Article 16(4) of the Constitution:

  • That Article 16(4) is exhaustive of the provision that can be made in favour of backward classes in matters of employment.
  • That any reservation in excess of 50% for ‘backward classes’ will not be violative of Articles 14 and/or 16 of the Constitution. But at the same time, such reservations made either under Article 16(4)or under Article 16(1) and (4) cannot be extended to the totality of 100%.
  • No Reservation can be made under Article 16(4) for classes other than backward classes. But under Article 16(1), reservation can be made for classes, not covered byArticle 16(4).
  • The expression, ‘backward class of citizens’ occurring in Article 16(4)is neither defined nor explained in the Constitution. However, the backward class or classes can certainly be identified in Hindu society with reference to castes along with other criteria such as traditional occupation, poverty, place of residence, lack of education etc. and in communities where caste is not recognised by the above recognised and accepted criteria except caste criterion.
  • In the process of identification of backward class of citizens and under Article 16(4)among Hindus, caste is a primary criterion or a dominant factor though it is not the sole criterion.
  • Any provision under Article 16(4)is not necessarily to be made by the Parliament or Legislature. Such a provision could also be made by an Executive order.
  • The power conferred on the State under Article 16(4) is one coupled with a duty and, therefore, the State has to exercise that power for the benefit of all those, namely, backward class for whom it is intended.
  • The provision for reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens is a matter of policy of the Government, of course subject to the constitutional parameters and well settled principle of judicial review.
  • No maximum ceiling of reservation can be fixed under Article 16(4) of the Constitution for reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens “in the Services under the State”. The decisions fixing the percentage of reservation only up to the maximum of 50% are unsustainable.

In the case, the Apex Court also recommended the Government to create a permanent machinery either by way of a Commission or a Committee within a reasonable time for examining the requests of inclusion or exclusion of any caste, community or group of persons on the advice of such Commission or Committee, as the case may be, and also for examining the exclusion of any pseudo community if smuggled into the list of OBCs.

M. Nagaraj v. Union of India (2006) 8 SCC 212

Some key observations that were made by Five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in context of “extent of reservation” are as under:

  • That the ceiling-limit of 50%, the concept of creamy layer and the compelling reasons, namely, backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency are all constitutional requirements without which the structure of equality of opportunity in Article 16would collapse.
  • That with respect to the “extent of reservation” 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. As stated above, the impugned provision is an enabling provision. The State is not bound to make reservation for SC/ST in matter of promotions. However if they wish to exercise their discretion and make such provision, 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.
  • That even if the State has compelling reasons, as stated above, the State will have to see that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness so as to breach the ceiling-limit of 50% or obliterate the creamy layer or extend the reservation indefinitely.

Subject to above, the Bench upheld the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Seventy-Seventh Amendment) Act, 1995, the Constitution (Eighty-First Amendment) Act, 2000, the Constitution (Eighty-Second Amendment) Act, 2000 and the Constitution (Eighty-Fifth Amendment) Act, 2001.

I.R. Coelho (Dead) By Lrs vs State Of Tamil Nadu & Ors. (AIR 2007 SC 861)

Some of the points concluded by the Nine-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the case are as under:

  • A law that abrogates or abridges rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution may violate the basic structure doctrine or it may not. If former is the consequence of law, whether by amendment of any Article of Part III or by an insertion in the Ninth Schedule, such law will have to be invalidated in exercise of judicial review power of the Court. The validity or invalidity would be tested on the principles laid down in this judgment.
  • The majority judgment in Kesavananda Bharati’s case read with Indira Gandhi’s case, requires the validity of each new constitutional amendment to be judged on its own merits. The actual effect and impact of the law on the rights guaranteed under Part III has to be taken into account for determining whether or not it destroys basic structure. The impact test would determine the validity of the challenge.
  • All amendments to the Constitution made on or after 24th April, 1973 by which the Ninth Schedule is amended by inclusion of various laws therein shall have to be tested on the touchstone of the basic or essential features of the Constitution as reflected in Article 21 read with Article 14Article 19 and the principles underlying them. To put it differently even though an Act is put in the Ninth Schedule by a constitutional amendment, its provisions would be open to attack on the ground that they destroy or damage the basic structure if the fundamental right or rights taken away or abrogated pertains or pertain to the basic structure.
  • Justification for conferring protection, not blanket protection, on the laws included in the Ninth Schedule by Constitutional Amendments shall be a matter of Constitutional adjudication by examining the nature and extent of infraction of a Fundamental Right by a statute, sought to be Constitutionally protected, and on the touchstone of the basic structure doctrine as reflected in Article 21 read with Article 14and Article 19 by application of the “rights test” and the “essence of the right” test taking the synoptic view of the Articles in Part III as held in Indira Gandhi’s case. Applying the above tests to the Ninth Schedule laws, if the infraction affects the basic structure then such a law(s) will not get the protection of the Ninth Schedule.
  • If the validity of any Ninth Schedule law has already been upheld by this Court, it would not be open to challenge such law again on the principles declared by this judgment. However, if a law held to be violative of any rights in Part III is subsequently incorporated in the Ninth Schedule after 24th April, 1973, such a violation/infraction shall be open to challenge on the ground that it destroys or damages the basic structure as indicated in Article 21 read with Article 14and Article 19 and the principles underlying thereunder.
  • Action taken and transactions finalized as a result of the impugned Acts shall not be open to challenge. We answer the reference in the above terms and direct that the petitions/appeals be now placed for hearing before a Three Judge Bench for decision in accordance with the principles laid down herein.