Reservation as a concept is very wide. Different people understand reservation to mean different things. One view of reservation as a generic concept is that reservation is an anti-poverty measure. There is a different view which says that reservation is merely providing a right of access and that it is not a right to redressal.1
Reservation implies a separate quota which is reserved for a special category of persons2. In India, reservation was introduced with the aim of advancement and adequate representation of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes or any other socially and educationally backward classes of citizens, or economically weaker sections.
A very prominent judgment on reservation is State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan, 1951 SCC 351, wherein the Court set aside the Government order providing for caste-based reservation in medical and engineering colleges.
In 1962, the State of Mysore reserved 68% of seats for various backward classes, which was challenged in M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore, 1963 Supp (1) SCR 439, wherein the Court held that the reservation should be below 50%.
Further, in T. Devadasan v. Union of India, (1964) 4 SCR 680, it was held that the unfilled seats for reserved categories in a year cannot be carried forward to the next year.
In 1975, dealing with the question of reservation in promotions, 2 judges out of the 5-Judge Bench in in State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas, (1976) 2 SCC 310 remarked that 50% limit is not an absolute rule and it is a rule of caution. The matter was further referred to a larger Bench. Thereafter, the 7-Judge Bench upheld the constitutional validity of Rule 13AA of the Kerala State and Subordinate Services Rules, 1958 which empowers the State Government to exempt members of the SC’s and ST’s already in services from passing the test for a specified period.
In 1979, the Government set up the Mandal Commission’s (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission) to identify the socially and educationally backward classes of India and to recommend reservation policy for them. Reservations under the Mandal Commission were challenged in Court, in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Supp (3) SCC 217, wherein a 9-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the 50% ceiling, denied reservations in promotions and laid down indicators to ascertain backwardness. Further, the Court overruled Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh (Railway) v. Union of India, (1981) 1 SCC 246, wherein it was held that reservations in appointments or posts under Article 16(4) included promotions. However, the Parliament through Constitution (Seventy –Seventh Amendment) Act, 1995, and Constitution (Eighty-First Amendment) Act, 2000 inserted Articles 16(4-A) (Reservation in matters of promotion with consequential seniority) and 16 (4-B) (Carry forward rule) respectively. The above-mentioned amendments were held constitutional in M. Nagaraj v. Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 212
In R. K. Sabharwal v. State of Punjab, (1995) 2 SCC 745, it was held that the reserved categories candidates appointed/promoted in non-reserved posts as a result of competition, cannot be considered to work out the prescribed percentage of reservation. Further, in Jitendra v. State of M.P., the Court relied on the law laid down in R. K. Sabharwal (supra) and held that the reserved category candidates cannot be denied appointment against a general category post merely because of being reserved category candidate and are entitled to be considered against a general category post, given that they are eligible in all respects except for the caste.
In a case pertaining to promotion, it was held that accelerated promotion through reservation or roster system will not grant SC/ST promotees seniority over general category3. However, this was overruled in Jagdish Lal v. State of Haryana, (1997) 6 SCC 538, wherein the grievance of general category candidates was that the seniority of SC/ST candidates who were junior to the general category candidates, but were promoted earlier than them, should be downgraded when general category candidates were also promoted, as the Court held that SC/STs will get seniority with reference to the date of their promotion.
Further,in Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India, (2008) 6 SCC 1, which revolves around the validity of the Central Education Institution (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 and the Constitution (Ninety –Third Amendment) Act, 2005, wherein Clause (5) was incorporated in Article 15 which enables the reservation for socially and economically backward classes in private educational institutions. The 5-Judge Bench overruled General Manager, S. Rly. v. Rangachari, (1962) 2 SCR 586, and held that Ninety-Third amendment to the Constitution does not violate the basic structure and there was no excessive delegation under Section 2 (g) of Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act. Further, it was held that the creamy layer has to be accounted for, while providing reservations to the OBC’s, but cannot be considered in the case of SC’s and ST’s.
In Dr. Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. The Chief Minister, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 362 relating to Maharashtra State Reservation for admission in educational institutions in the State and for appointments in the public services under the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (‘SEBC Act’) as amended in 2019, the 5-judge bench comprising of Ashok Bhushan, S.A. Nazeer, L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ quashed the Maratha Reservation and has held that the granting 12% and 13% reservation to Maratha Community in addition to 50% social reservation is not covered by exceptional circumstances as contemplated by the Constitution Bench in the Indra Sawhney case.
In 2019, Parliament passed the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act which does not mandate but enables 10% of reservations for economically weaker sections, in addition to the existing reservations. The 5-judge Constitution bench of UU Lalit, CJ and Dinesh Maheshwari, S. Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi, JB Pardiwala, JJ in Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1540, has upheld the constitutional validity of the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019.
FAQs on Recent Judgments on Reservation Policies in India
Q- What is the recent judgment of Supreme Court on reservation?
A- In 2022, in the case of Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1540, the 5-judge Constitution bench of UU Lalit, CJ and Dinesh Maheshwari, S. Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi, JB Pardiwala, JJ upheld the constitutional validity of the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019, thereby providing reservation to Economically Weaker Sections of society.
Q- Which is the famous judgment on reservation?
A- Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Supp (3) SCC 217, wherein a 9-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the 50% ceiling, denied reservations in promotions and laid down indicators to ascertain backwardness is the most well-known judgment on reservation.
Q- What is the current reservation policy in India?
A- Reservation to SCs, STs and OBCs in case of direct recruitment on all India basis by open competition is given at the rate of 15%, 7.5% and 27% respectively. Otherwise, than by open competition reservation for SCs, STs and OBC is 16.66%, 7.5%, and 25.84% respectively. Reservation in promotion by non-selection method is available to SCs and the STs in all groups of services.4