Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Reservation not fundamental right: SC refuses to hear pleas by TN parties


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Art. 32

Mains level: Making reservation system more efficient

What did the Hon’ble Supreme Court rule?


  • Article 16 (4) and 16 (4-A) are in the nature of enabling provisions, vesting a discretion on the State Government to consider providing reservations, if the circumstances so warrant.
  • It is settled law that the State Government cannot be directed to provide reservations for appointments in public posts.
  • Similarly, the State is not bound to make reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in matters of promotions.
  • The judgment added that it is for the State Government to decide whether this was necessary.

What do the precedents say?

  • There are several major Supreme Court judgments that have, in the past, ruled that Articles 15(4) and 16(4) does not provide a fundamental right per se.
  • A five-judge apex court bench, as early as 1962 in the R. Balaji v. the State of Mysore had ruled that Article 15(4) is an “enabling provision”, meaning that “it does not impose an obligation, but merely leaves it to the discretion of the appropriate government to take suitable action, if necessary”.
  • The court was hearing a challenge to an order passed by the erstwhile state of Mysore reserving 68 percent of seats in engineering and medical colleges for educationally and socially backward classes and SCs and STs.
  • Five years later, in 1967, another five-judge bench in A. Rajendran v. Union of India reiterated this position, holding that the government is under no constitutional duty to provide reservations for SCs and STs, either at the initial stage of recruitment or at the stage of promotion.
  • Article 16(4), it said, does not confer any right on the citizens and is an enabling provision giving discretionary power to the government to make reservations.
  • The position went on to be reiterated in several other decisions, including the nine-judge bench ruling in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992) and the five-judge bench decision in M Nagaraj v. Union of India (2006).

What does the judgment mean?

  • Reservations are not rights: The latest judgment is a reminder that affirmative action programs allowed in the Constitution flow from “enabling provisions” and are not rights as such.
  • Not a new legal position: This legal position is not new. Major judgments- these include those by Constitution Benches-note that Article 16(4), on the reservation in posts, is enabling in nature.
  • The state is not bound to provide reservation: In other words, the state is not bound to provide reservations. But if the state provides reservations, it must satisfy the following two criteria-
    • For the backward class: It must be in favor of sections that are backward.
    • Inadequately represented: And inadequately represented in the services based on quantifiable data.

Consequences of this judgment

  • Possibility of the unequal system: Some may even read into this an inescapable state obligation to extend reservation to those who need it, lest its absence renders the entire system unequal.
  • Possibility of perceptible imbalance: For instance, if no quotas are implemented and no study on backwardness and extent of representation is done, it may result in a perceptible imbalance in social representation in public services.

Why reservation needed?

  • To correct the historical injustice faced by backward castes in the country.
  • To provide a level playing field for backward section as they can not compete with those who have had the access of resources and means for centuries.
  • To ensure adequate representation of backward classes in the services under the State.
  • For advancement of backward classes.
  • To ensure equality as basis of meritocracy i.e all people must be brought to the same level before judging them on the basis of merit.

Argument Against Reservation

  • Reservation in state services led to divisions and enmity among government employees, vitiating the atmosphere at workplace.
  • Eradication, not perpetuation of caste was the objective of the reservation policy but Caste Based Reservation only perpetuate the notion of caste in society.
  • Reservation was introduced to ensure that the historically underprivileged communities were given equal access to resources but irrespective of the economic progress they continue to remain socially disadvantaged.
  • Reservation destroys self-respect, so much so that competition is no longer on to determine the best but the most backward.
  • Reservations are the biggest enemy of meritocracy which is the foundation of many progressive countries.
  • It has became a tool to meet narrow political ends through invoking class loyalties and primordial identities.
  • The dominant and elite class within the backward castes has appropriated the benefits of reservation and the most marginalised within the backward castes have remained marginalised.
  • Reservation has become the mechanism of exclusion rather than inclusion as many upper caste poors are also facing discrimination and injustice which breeds frustration in the society.

Way forward

  • Meanwhile, calls for reform and ret­hinking reservation policies get louder; one question is whether there’s a need to continue with reservation and if benefits have reached targets.
  • The challenge for India is that while many sections of the society remain disadvantaged, political action has resulted in the relative discrimination within reserved groups.
  • As the reservation pie grows larger, in effect, it becomes a method of exclusion rather than inclusion.
  • It is time that India has to make a critical assessment of its affirmative action programs.
  • Simplification, legislative sunsets, and periodic reviews should be important principles in the redesign.

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