Petition challenging implementation of Karnataka Reservation Act 2018 held not maintainable

Supreme Court:  The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and UU Lalit, JJ has refused to entertain the applications challenging the validity of Karnataka’s 2018 reservation law, which granted reservation in promotion to employees belonging to SC and ST categories. The Court held that applications filed by a group of general category employees for applying ‘post-based quota’ and the principle of the creamy layer at entry-level in public employment were not maintainable.

The maintainability of the MAs was challenged on the ground that though styled as an application for directions, they seek to lay a substantive challenge to the subsequent directions and clarifications issued by the State government in implementing the Reservation Act 2018.

The Court took note of various judgments wherein it was noticed that many applications, though styled as applications for clarification or modification are, in substance, applications for review. It noticed that this practice was presumably adopted to bypass the procedure stipulated for the consideration by this Court of review petitions. A party would not be permitted to circumvent substantive procedures by filing such applications.

The Court held that in B K Pavitra II, the Court was concerned with the constitutional validity of the Reservation Act 2018 and not actions taken thereunder or in pursuance of its implementation. However, the present MAs, though styled as applications for directions, seek to lay challenge to the actions of the State government to carry into effect the provisions of the Reservation Act 2018.

The Court noted,

“the nomenclature of an application is of no consequence and courts must assess the contents and reliefs sought in the application to determine what is the true nature of the application.”

In the present case the remedy, styled as directions, sought by the applicants cannot lie in the form of MAs.

  • Prayer (a) which seeks a direction to “re-work” all promotions on the basis of ‘post based reservations’ impugns item 3 of the FAQs annexed to the circular dated 24 June 2019 which states that the list is to be revised on the basis of the total number of government employees in the respective cadre.
  • Prayer (b) seeks the issuance of a direction to the State of Karnataka to apply the creamy layer principle at the entry level.
  • Prayer (c) seeks the issuance of a direction to the State Government to ensure, in the implementation of the Reservation Act 2018.

The Court, hence, held that the present MAs were, in effect, a substantive challenge to the actions of the State government in implementing the Reservation Act 2018.

In May last year, the court had, in BK Pavitra v. Union of India2019 SCC OnLine SC 694upheld the law allowing reservations in promotions for SC and ST candidates with consequential seniority. Upholding the validity of the Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act 2018, the bench of UU Lalit and Dr. DY Chandrachud, JJ had held,

“The Reservation Act 2018 is a valid exercise of the enabling power conferred by Article 16 (4A) of the Constitution.”

It further held,

“The object of the Reservation Act 2018 is to accord consequential seniority to promotees against roster points. In this view of the matter, we find no reason to hold that the provisions in regard to retrospectivity in the Ratna Prabha Committee report are either arbitrary or unconstitutional.”

Therefore, the benefit of consequential seniority has been extended from the date of the Reservation Order 1978 under which promotions based on reservation were accorded.

[BK Pavithra v. Union of India, M.A. No. 1323 of 2019, decided on 19.03.2020]

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