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Jarnail Singh v/s Lachhmi Narain Gupta: A Case Analysis

The case of Jarnail Singh V. Lachhmi Narain Gupta, a leave petition (civil) no. 30621, well know with the name 'Reservation in Promotion Case' decided by a constitutional bench comprising of the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra, Justice Kurian Joseph, Justice SK Kaul, Justice Indu Malhotra, and Justice RF Nariman.

The petition was filed in 2011 and the judgment was given on 26.09.2018. The motive of the formation of the bench was to review the constitutional validity of the verdict of M. Nagaraj V. Union of India with reference to Article 16(4) of the Indian Constitution. Article 16(4) of the Indian Constitution focuses on providing reservations to the people belonging to the backward communities (Schedule caste and Schedule Tribe) in government jobs.

In the M. Nagaraj case, it was held that the states need to prove the backwardness of a community by collecting quantifiable data before providing reservations in promotions. Moreover, the states also have to prove that the reservation would increase administrative efficiency. The exclusion of the creamy layer from reservations was also dealt with in this judgment.

  • A leave petition (civil) no. 30621 was filed against the judgment of M. Nagaraj and Others vs. Union of India, whereby, in order to provide reservation to the backward communities i.e. Schedule caste and Schedule Tribe in promotions in government jobs, the state had to prove that-
    1. The backward communities to which reservations are to be given were economically, socially, and educationally backward.
    2. There exists inadequate representation of those belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes.
    3. The reservation will lead to an increase in administrative efficiency.
    4. Moreover, the judgment also mandated the states not to breach the ceiling limit of 50% while providing reservations.
  • Thus, the states in the country started opposing this judgment as it made it harder for them to grant reservations to the backward communities i.e. Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe community
  • This was seen as contrary to the Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India as the need to collect quantifiable data to show backwardness was not constitutionally valid. Moreover, introducing the concept of the creamy layer for promotions in government jobs also raised questions on equality.
  • Ultimately, the petitioner approached the Court alleging the judgment to be in contravention of the provisions of Article 16 which provides equal opportunity in the matters of public appointment. Ad verbatim Article 16(4) provides that "Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State"

Arguments from Petitioner's side:
The petitioner was demanding a bench of 7 Judges to review the case of Nagaraj; the same was refused by the Supreme Court stating that there is no need of larger bench. The Nagraj case judgment directed the States to make a provision pertaining to the promotion of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in jobs and posts through reservation and to collect quantifiable data to prove that they are not adequate to get reservation in public services.

Petitioner who was in favour of collecting quantifiable data mentioned that such promotion method shall lead to unfair practice by people and thus, it becomes necessary to check on the backwardness of a person. After a certain post or authority at a job, the difference between those belonging to the creamy layer and non creamy layer start disappearing. Therefore, the person should not be excluded from the ambit of reservations that belongs to the creamy layer.

Arguments from the Respondent's side:
Shri K.K. Venugopal, the Attorney General for India, led the charge for reconsideration the case of Nagaraj. According to him, on two points, the Nagaraj case needs to be reviewed. Primarily, the M. Nagaraj v. Union of India, whereby, the state requires quantifiable data to provide reservations which is in contravention with the verdict in the case of Indra Sawhney v. Union of India.

Moreover, there was no need to collect data as the Indian constitution under articles 341 and 342 had already considered scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes as 'backward' socially and economically. Therefore there should be no further tests to verify the backwardness and inadequacy of their class. The second point was about the creamy layer concept.

Justice Nariman pointed out that the case of Indra Sawhney does not permit the collection of quantifiable data as a condition for granting promotions through reservation and thus, Nagraj's verdict contradicts the decision of a nine-judge bench. Another argument emerged the principle of creamy layer, which is applied to the Scheduled castes and the Scheduled tribes, is a big risk.

Cases on which parties relied upon:
Keshav Mills Co. Ltd v. Commissioner of Income-Tax, Bombay North, in which verdict passed by a Constitution Bench which has stood the test of time, ought not to be revisited, relying upon which the contention of the petitioner was if the parameters of Keshav Mills are to be applied, it is clear that the case of Nagaraj also ought not to be revisited.

Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, decided by the bench of nine judges, is against the collection of quantifiable data as a condition for granting promotions through reservation. The concept of the creamy layer was also not introduced in the said case. Therefore, this case was in direct support of the respondent.

Question of law:
  1. Whether M. Nagaraj v. Association of India need to be reviewed?
  2. Can the aspect of collecting quantifiable data to prove backwardness be considered valid?
  3. Whether the concept of creamy layer in reservations is valid?
The argument of M. Nagaraj v. Union of India to be reviewed by a seven-judge bench was refused and reviewed by a five-judge bench. Nariman J. observed that the whole purpose of reservation is to uplift the backward classes to the level of other classes for the sake of equality. Justice Nariman also mentioned that Indra Sawhney v. Union of India detested amassing quantifiable data to prove backwardness and hence was found unconstitutional.

In order to include the creamy layer concept, the Court started looking through Article 14, 15, and 16 of the Indian Constitution. Court believed that exclusion through the creamy layer from reservations in promotions is necessary because if the creamy layer is excluded, only the truly backward can be given a chance.

The problem of the caste system is not neoteric in India. The caste system refers to downgrading certain sections of society while providing privileges to another section on the basis of birth in particular castes. Reservation was brought with a view to promote socially and economically backward communities.

By virtue of this ordainment, the concept of creamy layer was added which helps in excluding those belonging to the creamy layer which is another constructive addition to the reservation criteria. It paves the way for the upliftment of the needy and excludes the rest. The move by the Hon'ble Apex Court is highly appreciable.

  1. Original Judgement
  2. Paridhi Goel, 'Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta- A case study( ipleaders, 24 July 2020)
  3. A case analysis of Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narain by Aditi Sahu

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