The current storm in Parliament over the bill to provide quota in promotions to SC/ST employees is only the latest episode in a long saga, which had the judiciary slugging it out with successive governments over the course of five decades.
It all began in 1957, when the late Jagjivan Ram – one of the most prominent dalit faces in Congress history – introduced reservation in promotions for SC/ST employees in the Railways. The Madras HC struck down his decision in 1959, terming it "unconstitutional".
Ram, however, had the last laugh when a Supreme Court bench, headed by late Chief Justice of India PB Gajendragadkar, reversed the high court verdict by a 3-2 majority judgment and upheld the Railways order.The next turning point came in 1992 when the apex court — in the Indra Sawhney case — ruled that the creamy layer should be excluded from getting the benefits of reservation. It said that caste was just one of the factors for determining backwardness, not the sole criterion. This made the PV Narasimha Rao government amend the constitution in 1995, adding a new clause to Article 16 for providing quota in promotions to SC/ST employees in accordance with the apex court’s ruling.
In 2001, the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government further amended the same clause (4A) of Article 16 to ensure seniority for SC/ST candidates promoted through reservation.
The validity of these constitutional amendments was again challenged in the apex court, which — in 2006 — sought the proving of compelling reasons before taking any such step.
On the basis of this judgment, the Allahabad high court last year struck down the Mayawati government's decision to provide quota in promotions for SCs/STs in Uttar Pradesh. The Supreme Court, on April 28, upheld the verdict — forcing Mayawati to demand yet another constitutional amendment that would help her law sail through.