Reservation in promotion in Public Employment in India

Positive discrimination to provide reservation in promotion:

Challenge to reservation in promotion:

Petitioners had invoked Article 32 of the Constitution for a writ in the nature of certiorari to quash the Constitution (Eighty-Fifth Amendment] Act, 2001 inserting Article 16(4A) of the Constitution retrospectively from 17.6.1995 providing reservation in promotion with consequential seniority as being unconstitutional and violative of the basic structure. Thus the width and amplitude of the right to equal opportunity in public employment, in the context of reservation, broadly fell for consideration before a full bench of five judges of Supreme Court of India.

Right of equal opportunity in public employment:

The constitutional principle of equality is inherent in the Rule of Law. However, its reach is limited because its primary concern is not with the content of the law but with its enforcement and application. The Rule of Law is satisfied when laws are applied or enforced equally, that is, evenhandedly, free of bias and without irrational distinction. The concept of equality allows differential treatment but it prevents distinctions that are not properly justified. Justification needs each case to be decided on case to case basis.

Test of Basic Structure Doctrine:

The impugned constitutional amendments by which Articles 16(4A) and 16(4B) have been inserted, flow from Article 16(4). They do not alter the structure of Article 16(4). They retain the controlling factors or the compelling reasons, namely, backwardness and inadequacy of representation which enables the States to provide for reservation keeping in mind the overall efficiency of the State administration under Article 335. These impugned amendments are confined only to SCs and STs. They do not obliterate any of the constitutional requirements, namely, ceiling-limit of 50% (quantitative limitation), the concept of creamy layer (qualitative exclusion), the sub-classification between OBC on one hand and SCs and STs on the other hand.

Width and Amplitude test:

The test for judging the width of the power and the test for adjudicating the exercise of power by the concerned State are two different tests which warrant two different judicial approaches. In the present case, as stated above, we are required to test the width of the power under the impugned amendments. Therefore, we have to apply “the width test”. In applying “the width test” we have to see whether the impugned amendments obliterate the constitutional limitations mentioned in Article 16(4), namely, backwardness and inadequacy of representation. As stated above, these limitations are not obliterated by the impugned amendments. However, the question still remains whether the concerned State has identified and valued the circumstances justifying it to make reservation. This question has to be decided case- wise.

Thus the main issue concerns the “extent of reservation”. In this regard the concerned State will have to show in each case the existence of the compelling reasons, namely, backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency before making provision for reservation. As stated above, the impugned provision is an enabling provision. The State is not bound to make reservation for SC/ST in matter of promotions. However if they wish to exercise their discretion and make such provision, the State has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment in addition to compliance of Article 335. It is made clear that even if the State has compelling reasons, as stated above, the State will have to see that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness so as to breach the ceiling-limit of 50% or obliterate the creamy layer or extend the reservation indefinitely.

Therefore, in each case the Court has got to be satisfied that the State has exercised its opinion in making reservations in promotions for SCs and STs and for which the concerned State will have to place before the Court the requisite quantifiable data in each case and satisfy the Court that such reservations became necessary on account of inadequacy of representation of SCs/ STs in a particular class or classes of posts without affecting general efficiency of service as mandated under Article 335 of the Constitution.

[Source: M. Nagraj v. Union of India, (Supreme Court of India)]

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