Analysis: SC judgement on reservation in promotions

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Recently, the Supreme Court in a leading case Mukesh Kumar V State of Uttarakhand, 2020 was deciding a group of appeals pertaining to the reservations to SCs and STs in promotion in the posts of Assistant Civil Engineer in Public works department, Government of Uttarakhand.

In this case SC ruled that the states are not obligated to make reservations on appointments and promotions and there is no fundamental right to claim reservation in promotions in public posts. Also the state governments are not bound to make reservation and can use their discretion in providing reservations.

Nevertheless, if the state decides to exercise its authority and make such provisions, then it must collect quantifiable data demonstrating “inadequacy of representation of that class in public services”.And it also says that, even the courts will be unable to issue a mandamus to the states directing reservations in promotions to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).

However, if the state government’s decision to grant promotional reservations is challenged then the State concerned shall submit the quantifiable data to the courts that shows that the reservations were appropriate because of the inadequacy of representation of SCs and SCs without affecting the general efficiency of the administration as mandated by Article 335. According to the SC, the individuals cannot assert reservation in promotions as their fundamental rights under Article 16(4) and Article 16(4-A) of the Indian Constitution.

These articles only empower the state to provide reservation to SCs and STs in matters of appointments and promotion in public posts, if the state thinks that they are inadequately represented in Public and Government services.

Reservation in India is a system which comprises of a series of affirmative actions that are taken by the Government of India with the main aim of uplifting the weaker sections of the society by making them eligible to get into government jobs and higher education system. Reservations basically mean that a set percentage of seats are reserved in the public sector units, union and state civil services, union and state government departments and in all public and private educational institutions, for the people of backward classes who are described by our constitution of India as Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

India follows a unique policy of reservation, being a multi religious country it aims to implement a temporary measure to bring each community on the same footing. The reservations in India are undertaken in order to address the historic oppression, inequality, and discrimination faced by those communities and give them a place. The intention was to promise the equality that is enriched in our constitution of India.

 In the Constitution of India there is a special provision for the betterment of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, along with abolition of untouchability. The purpose behind the policies of reservation was to enhance the social and educational status of the underprivileged communities and thus improves their lives.

Dr. B.R Ambedkar, also regarded as the chief architect of Indian Constitution, was instrumental in the campaign moved against social discrimination and played a major role in implementing the reservation policy in India, and argued for an extensive socio-economic rights specially for women, and with the support of Assembly, led to the introduction of a system of reservation of jobs in the civil services, schools, and colleges for the members of Scheduled Caste(SC), Scheduled Tribe(ST).The constitutional provisions that govern reservation are many some of the important ones are as follows:

  • Article 15(4):- 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.
  • Article 16 guarantees equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.
    Article 16(1) provides that “there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state”.
  • Article 335 mandates that reservations have to be balanced with the ‘maintenance of efficiency’. The 2001 amendment to Article 335 clarified that the Article will not apply to the State relaxing evaluation standards in ‘in matters of promotion’.

Reservation in promotion usually means that a fixed percentage seatsof Government of India’s public sector jobs are made exclusive for the categories of people largely based on their caste or tribe.

 In the famous case of 1993, Indira Sawhney and Ors V. Union of India and Ors,“the Supreme Court ruled that reservation of appointments or posts under article 16(4) of the Constitution is confined to initial appointment and cannot extent to reservation in the matter of promotion and declared promotions of public jobs as ‘unconstitutional’which would adversely affect the interest of SCs and STs since their representation has not yet reached the required level. It was thus necessary to amend Article 16 by adding article (4A) by 77th Amendment 1995 to provide for reservation in promotion for SCs and STs, in order to continue the existing policy of reservation in promotion”.

In the leading case of M. Nagraj & Others V. Union of India & Others 2006, “the validity of all these four amendments were challenged mainly on the ground that they altered the basic structure granted by the Constitution of India. Later, the Supreme Court upheld these amendments, but stipulated that the concerned state will have to show the existence of compelling reasons before making provisions for reservation, which includes ‘backwardness’, ‘inadequacy of representation’ and overall ‘administrative efficiency’. Further it states that if the state wishes to make provisions for reservations to ST/SC in promotions, then they need to collect and show quantifiable data proving backwardness and inadequacy of representation of that particular class”.

 A 5 judge bench of the Supreme Court in the case of Jarnail Singh v. LachhmiNarain Gupta 2018, held that there cannot be an insistence on collection of quantifiable data of backwardness in relation to SCs and STs. And any such insistence was held to be against the judgment ruled in Indira Sawhney case. Later in B.K. Pavitra V Union Of India2019, “ the Supreme Courtupheld the Constitutional 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 said enactment provided for consequential seniority to the persons belonging to SC and ST promoted under the reservation policy of state of Karnataka.

However, the latest judgment in the case of Mukesh Kumar v State of Uttarakhand is not without problems, as it states “that there is no fundamental right which inherits an individual to claim reservations in promotions”. The Court the power to direct the state government to grant reservations at a specific level to specific communities is a dangerous move in itself. 

So apart from its cons the ruling is somewhat beneficial, as now in order to provide reservation in promotion the state needs to show quantifiable data of the particular class being inadequately represented because the ultimate aim of reservations was to give the equal opportunity and position in the society to the people of oppressed class defined as SCs and STs and make them at par with others and the policy of reservation in jobs, education and appointments was highly misusedand it is quite necessary to keep a check on it because of which the ruling in the latest judgment seems correct.

Therefore, the policies of government that provides caste based reservations SCs, STs, and OBCs are somewhat unjust to the general public as a whole. Because the reservation policies were made for uplifting the backward sections but are highly misused now-a-days by a lot of people for their personal benefit and many people are trying to make fake caste certificates to get the fruit of reservations.

Also a lot of deserving candidates are denied seats just because of already reserved seats in jobs and educational institutions. Similarly, in my view the policy of reservation in promotions are also unjust and it should be based on ability and seniority of a person rather than caste.

Author: Bhakti Rathi from NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala

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