The topic of reservations has long been a source of controversy in India. It
has had periods when educational and employment distinctions were based on
social standing, class, and capitalist relations rather than on merit and fair
competition. One of the essential rights given to all Indian citizens by the
Indian Constitution is the right to equality. The Constitution's Article 16
addresses the issue of opportunity equality for those seeking public employment.
The Janta Party government, headed by Prime Minister Shri Morarji Desai, formed
the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Commission on January 1,
1979. It is now chaired by Shri B.P. Mandal. In accordance with Article 340 of
the Indian Constitution, the President of India appointed this commission. In
January 1953, the first SEBC commission was constituted under the leadership of
Kaka Kalelkar. On March 30, 1955, it published a report citing guidelines
established by the Central Government that described 2399 people as having
social and educational disadvantages.
The Mandal commission delivered its findings in December 1980. In it, the
committee identified 27 castes as being socially and educationally backward
classes, out of a total of 3743.
On August 13, 1990, Prime Minister V.P. Singh issued an office memorandum
reserving 27 seats for the Socially & Backward classes. This led to a civil
unrest throughout the nation as anti-reservation sentiment spread throughout the
Title of the Case: Indra Sawhney Etc. vs Union of India and Others 1992
Citation: AIR 1993 SC 477, 1992 Supp 2 SCR 454
Court: Supreme Court of India
Bench: M Kania, M Venkatachaliah, S R Pandian, . T Ahmadi, K Singh, P Sawant, R
Sahai, B J Reddy
- Is the classification based on caste or on economic factors?
- Whether or not Article 16 (4) is an exception to Article 16 (1)
- Whether backward classes in Article 16 (4) are similar to SEBCS in
Article 15 (4) or not?
- Is it necessary to make "any provision" for reservation "by the state"
under Article 16(4) by law passed by the state legislatures or by law passed
by parliament? Is it possible that such provisions could be made by
- Is the division of the backward class into backward and more backward
classes valid or not?
Several times, the Supreme Court has addressed arguments regarding reservations
in our Constitution. A Government Order (G.O.) issued by the State of Madras
that allotted seats in engineering and medical colleges based on one's caste was
challenged in the Supreme Court in State of Madras v. Smt. Champakan
. The case was heard by a Special Bench of seven judges. The
ineligibility created by the 'communal G.O.,' in which a Brahmin who was
otherwise eligible was rendered ineligible due to his caste, was found to be in
violation of Article 15 and 16.
The Supreme Court considered the scope of Article 16 (4) in T. Devadasan v.
Union of India
. The Supreme Court declared the carry forward rule, which was
enacted by the government to regulate the appointment of people from lower
socioeconomic classes to government jobs, unconstitutional, on the grounds that
the government's power cannot be exercised in such a way as to deny reasonable
equality of opportunity in matters of public employment to people from other
Due to the significance of the matter, the Supreme Court's Constitution Bench of
five judges sent it to the Constitution Bench of nine judges to determine the
final legal position on reservations. According to the ruling of the 6:3
majority, the Union Government's decision to provide SEBCs Creamy layer among
them in 27% government employment was constitutionally valid.
Following were the significant proclamations:
- Creamy layer should not be allowed in the lower classes.
- Article 16(4) allows for the classification of more backward classes as
more backward classes.
- Financial factors alone cannot accurately and fully distinguish a class
of citizens who are behind.
- A reservation shouldn't be more than 50%.
- The Executive Order may be used to make reservations.
- The promotion has no restrictions.
- Permanent statutory body to investigate complaints of inclusion that is
either too high or too low.
- According to the majority, it is unnecessary to speak in on the Mandal
Commission's work's accuracy or thoroughness.
- The Supreme Court is the only forum for disputes involving new criteria.
The Mandal Commission relied on incredibly shoddy information. The surveys were
only conducted in 0.06% of the villages, the committee itself acknowledged.
Numerous castes were only included because the Kaka Kalelkar-led Backward
Classes Commission's initial report made mention of them.
The Kalelkar Commission and the State Government both designated a large number
of castes as being historically underdeveloped. Even though the 1971 census was
also available, the commission still used the 1931 and 1961 data to calculate
the percentage of the lower classes. In doing so, they completely disregarded
the demographic changes that have occurred over the past 50 years as well as the
fact that Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Burma were all part of India in 1931.
Even though the 1971 census was also available, the commission still used the
1931 and 1961 data to calculate the percentage of the lower classes. In doing
so, they completely disregarded the demographic changes that have occurred over
the past 50 years as well as the fact that Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Burma were
all part of India in 1931. Six out of nine judges accepted the report despite
its catastrophic flaws, which included statistical errors, historical
inaccuracies, and logical absurdities.
The findings received harsh criticism from Justice Kuldip Singh, who stated:
"A grouping of so-called backward castes by a clerical act based on drawing-room
examination cannot be the backward classes intended under Article 16(4).
The Mandal Commission utilised "caste" as the sole basis to grant individuals
reservation, disregarding all other factors, including economic background, and
viewed "backward classes" and "backward castes" as synonyms. The commission
disregarded the fundamental fact that it was only concerned with identifying the
"behind class" for the sake of Article 16 and was not interested in the causes
of social backwardness in Indian society (4).
Since the Constitution employs the more general term "class" rather than
"caste," Justice R.M. Sahai argued in his dissent that an interpretation that
would identify backwardness on the basis of caste should be rejected. The goal
and object of Article 16(2) would be destroyed if the State were given the
authority to impose reservations under Article 16(4) based on religion, race, or
caste, and this would violate the prohibition against caste-based
The majority rejected the petitioner's argument that the level of reservation
should be limited to 30%, which was the number mentioned in Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's
speech before the Constitutional Assembly. The majority based their judgement on
the quantum of reservation in State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas. According to the
majority, Article 16(4) was a feature of Article 16 and not an exception to
The authors of the Indian Constitution opposed a casteless and provocative
society. They pictured a society free of casteism, religious communalism, colour,
place of residence, and language, and one that was homogenous, secular, and
The Indian Constitution acknowledges caste as one of the pertinent factors to be
taken into account in the process of identifying persons who are socially
backward, but it is neither caste-blind nor caste-biased. Reservations made
primarily on the basis of caste would be against the law and could lead to cruel
reverse discrimination. It is not acceptable to use the idea of equality to
excuse further misconduct.
The court correctly held that the rank can be both regularly and social class
for the key question of whether the grouping depends on standing or financial
With regard to the second question, the court found that Article 16(4) is a free
provision and not a particular situation under Article 16(1). Reservations may
be made in accordance with condition (1) if a reasonable agreement is reached
and the decision in Balaji v. Province of Mysore
The court concluded that Article 16(4) encompasses all other SC, ST, and other
in backward class of citizens, including SEBCs, to a much greater extent. In
response to the fourth concern, the court adequately defined this strategy and
overturned the Balaji finding by holding that the distinction between backward
classes and even more backward classes is valid. Sub-characterization is
essential if backward classes are to fully benefit from reservation.
Among the classes who were given reservations, those who had previously profited
from them and had raised their social standing (the "creamy layer") shouldn't be
permitted to do so repeatedly. The lower classes should be given the opportunity
to benefit from reservations in order to advance their status, not the upper
class, who should refrain from exploiting them.
Although there was a little bit of an unusual cycle while handling this case,
the court can also include the poor segment of high stations in SEBCs. The
Supreme Court has made a strong effort to strike a balance between the interests
of society and educationally in backward classes and a man having a place with
the general classification in matters of government work.
Written By: Ojasvi Rana,
Institution: Ajeenkya DY Patil University,
Fourth year BA LLB