How past orders paved way for SC ruling on reservation
The Supreme Court’s February 7 ruling saying the government is not bound to provide reservation in appointments and promotions caused an uproar in Parliament on Monday.Updated: Feb 11, 2020 01:10 IST
The Supreme Court’s February 7 ruling saying the government is not bound to provide reservation in appointments and promotions caused an uproar in Parliament on Monday with the Congress accusing the Centre of attempting to snatch the rights of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
In its order, the court made it clear that an individual does not have a fundamental right to claim reservation and it is for the government to decide whether reservation is required in the matter of appointment and promotions.
That reservation cannot be claimed as a fundamental right is a settled position under the law. Here are some of the past Supreme Court judgments which had cited this regarding reservation:
MR Balaji v. State of Mysore (1963, 5-judge bench)
This case related to a challenge to an order by erstwhile state of Mysore reserving 68% seats in engineering and medical colleges for educationally and socially backward classes and the SC and STs.
The court in its judgment observed that Article 15 (4), which empowers the state to make special provisions for the SC and STs, is an enabling provision. “It does not impose an obligation, but merely leaves it to the discretion of the appropriate government to take suitable action, if necessary.”
CA Rajendran v. Union of India (1967, five-judge bench)
The court dealt with the Centre’s decision that there would be no reservation for the SC and STs in appointments made by promotions to Class I and II services in the railways as these required a higher degree of efficiency and responsibility.
However, such reservations were to continue in certain grades and services in Class III and Class IV. The Centre’s had said there is no constitutional compulsion to make reservations for the SCs and STs in posts filled through promotion and the question whether reservation should be continued or withdrawn was entirely a matter of public policy.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Centre holding that Article 16(4) does not confer any right on the petitioner and there is no constitutional duty imposed on the government to make reservation for the SCs and STs, either at the initial stage of recruitment or at the stage of promotion.
“Art. 16(4) is an enabling provision and confers a discretionary power on the State to make a reservation of appointments in favour of backward class of citizens which, in its opinion, is not adequately represented in the Services of the State,” the court said.
Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992, nine-judge bench)
The court, while dealing with whether creamy lawyer should be excluded from the purview of reservation, stated that Article 16(4) is an enabling provision and permissive in character. The provision, the court noted, is a source of reservation for appointments or posts in services for backward class of citizens.
Ajit Singh v. State of Punjab (1999, five-judge bench)
This case related to reservation in promotions and whether reserved candidates, who get promotion would be entitled to claim seniority over general candidates who get promoted at a later point in time.
The court noted with the approval the law laid down in its previous judgments in MR Balaji v. State of Mysore (1963) and CA Rajendran v. Union of India (1967) and ruled that there is no duty on the government to provide reservations
“In view of the overwhelming authority right from 1963, we hold that both Articles 16(4) and 16(4A) do not confer any fundamental rights nor do they impose any constitutional duties but are only in the nature of enabling provision vesting a discretion in the State to consider providing reservation if the circumstances mentioned in those Articles so warranted,” the court said.
M Nagaraj v. Union of India (2006 – five-judge bench)
The case related to a challenge to an amendment to Article 16(4A). Article 16(4A), before its amendment, empowered the government to provide reservations to the SCs and STs in matters of promotion.
Parliament amended it in 2001 providing reservation in promotion with consequential seniority which was challenged before the apex court.
The court, in its judgment, observed that the government is not bound to make reservation for the SCs and STs in the matter of promotions. However, if it wishes to exercise discretion and make such provision, the state has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of a class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment.