Positive discrimination in promotion

Discrimination under Article 16 of Constitution of India.

Accelerated Promotions in employment:

Reservation in promotion with consequential seniority, if legally valid?

The Question:
Petitioners 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.

Observations of Supreme Court: 

Constitution is not an ephemeral legal document embodying a set of legal rules for the passing hour. It sets out principles for an expanding future and is intended to endure for ages to come and consequently to be adapted to the various crisis of human affairs. Therefore, a purposive rather than a strict literal approach to the interpretation should be adopted. A Constitutional provision must be construed not in a narrow and constricted sense but in a wide and liberal manner so as to anticipate and take account of changing conditions and purposes so that constitutional provision does not get fossilized but remains flexible enough to meet the newly emerging problems and challenges.
This principle of interpretation is particularly apposite to the interpretation of fundamental rights. It is a fallacy to regard fundamental rights as a gift from the State to its citizens. Individuals possess basic human rights independently of any constitution by reason of basic fact that they are members of the human race. These fundamental rights are important as they possess intrinsic value. Part-III of the Constitution does not confer fundamental rights. It confirms their existence and gives them protection. Its purpose is to withdraw certain subjects from the area of political controversy to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. Every right has a content. Every foundational value is put in Part-III as fundamental right as it has intrinsic value. The converse does not apply. A right becomes a fundamental right because it has foundational value.

At the outset, it may be noted that equality, rule of law, judicial review and separation of powers are distinct concepts. They have to be treated separately, though they are intimately connected. There can be no rule of law if there is no equality before the law; and rule of law and equality before the law would be empty words if their violation was not a matter of judicial scrutiny or judicial review and judicial relief and all these features would lose their significance if judicial, executive and legislative functions were united in only one authority, whose dictates had the force of law. The rule of law and equality before the law are designed to secure among other things justice both social and economic. Secondly, a federal Constitution with its distribution of legislative powers between Parliament and State legislatures involves a limitation on legislative powers and this requires an authority other than Parliament and State Legislatures to ascertain whether the limits are transgressed and to prevent such violation and transgression.

Once it is held that fundamental rights could be abridged but not destroyed and once it is further held that several features of the Constitution can not be destroyed, the concept of ‘express limitation’ on the amending power loses its force for a precise formulation of the basic feature of the Constitution and for the courts to pronounce on the validity of a constitutional amendment.

In the present case, we are concerned with the right of an individual of equal opportunity on one hand and preferential treatment to an individual belonging to a backward class in order to bring about equal level- playing field in the matter of public employment. Therefore, in the present case, we are concerned with conflicting claims within the concept of ‘justice, social, economic and political’, which concept as stated above exists both in Part-III and Part-IV of the Constitution. Public employment is a scarce commodity in economic terms. As the supply is scarce, demand is chasing that commodity. This is reality of life. The concept of ‘public employment’ unlike right to property is socialistic and, therefore, falls within the preamble to the Constitution which states that WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC.
Similarly, the preamble mentions the objective to be achieved, namely, justice, social, economic and political. Therefore, the concept of ‘equality of opportunity’ in public employment concerns an individual, whether that individual belongs to general category or backward class. The conflicting claim of individual right under Article 16(1) and the preferential treatment given to a backward class has to be balanced. Both the claims have a particular object to be achieved. The question is of optimization of these conflicting interests and claims.

Conclusions on validity of accelerated promotion:

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 as held in  Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, the concept of post-based Roster with in-built concept of replacement as held in R.K. Sabharwal & Others v. State of Punjab
We reiterate that the ceiling-limit of 50%, the concept of creamy layer and the compelling reasons, namely, backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency are all constitutional requirements without which the structure of equality of opportunity in Article 16 would collapse.
However, in this case, as stated, 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.
Subject to above, we uphold the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Seventy-Seventh Amendment) Act, 1995, the Constitution (Eighty-First Amendment) Act, 2000, the Constitution (Eighty-Second Amendment) Act, 2000 and the Constitution (Eighty-Fifth Amendment) Act, 2001.
M. Nagaraj v. Union of India, decided by Supreme Court of India on 19 October, 2006.

Note: Thus the Court will evaluate each law to see if it is supported by data.
Does it not involve subjective Due Process of another kind?

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