The ongoing storm in Parliament over the controversial constitution amendment bill to provide quota in promotions for SC/ST employees is only the latest episode in a long saga that has witnessed the higher judiciary slug it out with successive governments during a little over past five decades.
It began in 1957, when late Jagjivan Ram, the then railway minister and one of the most prominent Dalit faces in the history of Congress, introduced reservation in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes railway employees.
The Madras HC, however, struck down his decision in 1959, terming it “unconstitutional and offensive to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution”.Ram had the last laugh when a Supreme Court bench, headed by late Chief Justice of India PB Gajendragadkar, reversed the HC verdict by a 3-2 majority judgment and upheld the Railways order.
The next turning point came in 1992 when the SC — in the famous Indra Sawhney case — ruled that the creamy layer should be excluded from getting the benefits of reservation. It said “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 top 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 Supreme Court, which — in 2006 - sought the proving of compelling reasons before taking any such step.
On the basis of this judgment, the Allahabad HC last year struck down the Mayawati government’s decision to provide quota in promotions for SCs/STs in UP. The SC, on April 28, upheld the verdict — forcing Mayawati to demand yet another constitutional amendment. The biggest question bothering the government is how to address the issues raised in its judgment by the Supreme Court, which had questioned the basis and data on which the Mayawati government gave quota in promotions.