SC verdict on the reservation in promotions



  • GS Mains Paper- 2
  • Governance

What is the context?

  • The Supreme Court verdict on Reservation in promotions came out today.
  • The issue for debate before a bench of five judges of the Supreme Court in Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta was whether M. Nagaraj v. Union of India (Nagaraj) required reconsideration.
  • Nagaraj verdict had held that before the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe candidates can be promoted, the states had to prove by “quantifiable data” that they were indeed “backward”.

Why the issue?

  • There was no definition of the expression “backward” and whether it is social backwardness, educational backwardness, economic backwardness or untouchability of which “quantifiable data” was to be collected.
  • As a result, all promotions made post-Nagraj were struck down on the ground that there was no quantifiable data.

What is the definition of SC & Backward Caste?

  • The expression, “Scheduled Castes” simply refers to castes added to a Schedule in the Constitution.
  • The expression “backward class” in Article 16(4) of the Constitution refers to these “untouchable castes” known under British rule as “depressed classes”, and those we have come to be known as “other backward classes”.

What are the flaws in the Nagaraj verdict?

  • Article 16 (4-A) of the Constitution allows reservation in promotion for the untouchable castes and tribes only and not for “other backward classes”.
  • The marker of the identity of Scheduled Castes is the historic disadvantage of the untouchable.
  • Therefore the question of proving backwardness by quantifiable data does not arise.
  • At the heart of the problem is the inability of the Supreme Court to understand the very meaning of “equality” and the purpose of reservations.

What has been the history of reservations in India?

  • Following the Poona Pact, B R Ambedkar gave up the demand of the Dalit community for separate electoral colleges.
  • Instead, it was agreed that the castes described by the British as “depressed classes” would be given reservation in employment with joint electorates (in the provincial and central legislatures) for a larger number of seats than envisaged by the Mac Donald award.
  • There was thus, a national compact that the “depressed classes” should be represented in appointments in public services as well as in local bodies, in other words, reservation in public services and local bodies.
  • The said ‘depressed classes’ came to be known as “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes”.

Need for reservations:-

  • There should be an equitable distribution of job opportunities among different sections of the society.
  • Everyone should have a stake in democratic governance, whether they determine their identities by gender or by caste or by a historic disadvantage.
  • A balance needs to be struck between the allotment of posts in the public sector between the claims of the upper castes and those of the untouchable castes and tribes.
  • This balance can be achieved by reserving the appropriate number of posts for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the rest of the candidates.
  • Reservations are intended to achieve equality in the matter of representation in public employment and, consequentially, in state power.

Exclusion of creamy layer also questionable:-

  • Creamy layer is an expression not found in the Constitution.
  • Given that the identification of beneficiaries is not based on economic criteria, but on caste markers, how can there be such an exclusion.
  • If indeed economic cut off is to be put ostensibly to advance the cause of the surely backward, then why should reservation not be given to the people of below poverty line (BPL) of all castes, including the upper castes.

What is the way forward?

  • The Court has been myopic in suggesting that the more backward among the backward must only get promotion in a country in which people die while manual scavenging and all the public sector positions of sweepers are occupied by Scheduled Castes.
  • An obsessive concern of the Supreme Court while denying reservation in different forms has been “efficiency in administration”.
  • If a department is underperforming, how does one say that it is on account of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community.
  • The judgment in Jarnail Singh must be welcomed as paving the way for promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in public employment thereby furthering and deepening the Constitution’s equality.