Indra Sawhney v Union of India Case Analysis (Reservation cap in Jobs)

Indra Sawhney v Union of India Case Analysis (Reservation cap in Jobs)

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Case Name: Indra Sawhney v Union of India

Citation: AIR 1993 SC 477, 1992 Supp 2 SCR 454

Date of Judgement: 16th November 1992

Bench: M Kania, M Venkatachaliah, S R Pandian, . T Ahmadi, K Singh, P Sawant, R Sahai, B J Reddy

Laws and Acts applied in the case: Constitutional Law

During the year of 1953 under Article 340 the central government set up the First Backward Classes Commission also known as Kaka Kalelker Commission. The report was submitted by the commission in 1955. However it was never taken up and amounted to the rejection of the same. Then again in 1979 the Second Backward Classes Commission was set up1 by the President under Article 340(1) and it submitted its report on 31 December 1980, which was discussed in the Parliament and under examination till 1990. Finally an announcement was made by the then Prime Minister V.P. Singh, that 27% of the jobs in all central government offices and public institutions will be reserved for backward classes. The backward classes according to the first Office Memorandum2 would be for socially and economically backward classes3  for whom 27% of the seats would be reserved. This caused uproar in the country, leading to a lot of damage to property and loss of lives. Then one year later under the P.V. Narasimha Rap government a second Office Memorandum4 which introduced the concept of giving preference to poorer sections of SEBCs and 10% reservation will be provided to economically backward sections of the people not covered under the existing schemes. 

With nearly every campus in northern India in flames the matter came before the Supreme Court on the 11th September,1990. This inturn commenced a two – year long battle in the court between political opportunism and judicial pragmatism. 

Broad Issues to be Examined in Indra Sawhney v Union of India

On 16th November 1992 the largest constitutional bench of 9 judges decided the legal provision on reservation.5 Even though much of the controversy was regarding the Mandal Commission in the public the issues before the Supreme Court revolved around the nature and scope of the constitutional provision for reservations in public employment and discussed the concept of equality in the same environment. These issues can be categorised under the following sub headings:

  1. Extent and Scope of Article 16 (1) read with Article 16 (4).
  2. ‘Backward class of citizens’ and its definitive parameters.
  3. The criteria applicable for identification.
  4. Extent and Nature of reservation permissible. 

The ratio of the following judgement was 6:3. The dissenting judges were Justice T.K Thommen, Kuldip Singh and R. M. Sahai. 

Scope and Extent of Article 16(1) read with 16(4)

While considering this issue the main question was could Article 16(1) exist with Article 16 (4). The Bench agreed that both the clauses had the same scope of operation and that clause 4 was complementary to clause (1). The bench observed “clause (4) of Article 16 is not an exception to clause (1) of Article 16. It is an instance of classification implicit in and permitted by clause (1) … it must be read along with and in harmony with clause (1)”.6 Thus this Bench approved State of kerala v. N. M. Thomas7 and overruled the decision of T. Devadasen v. India.8 

According to six judges Article 16(4) it was only exhaustive of reservations for the backward classes alone and not the entire concept of reservation. However the minority concluded that Article 16(4) included all types of reservations and therefore it was violative of Article 16(1). 

Backward Class – its Definitive Parameters

There was a lot of discussion as to what constitutes a “class” in Article 16(4) the broad discussions are:

The Class – Caste Nexus

It was clarified that classification was not based on caste per se but on the bases of caste that was found to be a backward class which was not adequately represented in the services to the State. It even added by Justice Sawant that in order to constitute backward class, the caste concerned had to not only be backward per se but also concerned the social, economic and educational issues. Thus opinion of the judgement was in consensus with Mandal Commission that both the education and economical factors need to be considered.9 

Economic Criteria 

It was only Justice Kuldip Singh for the 10% reservation for economically backward class as he believed that it was poverty that breeds backwardness.

The creamy layer exclusionary was introduced but with a word of caution. It was the first time that the well – established principle of “creamy layer principle” allowing the entire group to be identified. It was observed by the majority judges which included Chief Justice Kania, and Justices Venkatachalaiah, Ahmadi and Jeevan Reddy observed:

In a backward class under clause (4) of Article 16, if the connecting link is the social

backwardness, it should broadly be the same in a given class. If some members are far

too advanced socially (which in the context necessarily means economically and may

also mean educationally), the connecting thread between them and the remaining class

snaps. They would be isfits in the class..”10

However this overlooks the judicially sanctioned legal framework contemplated by the founding fathers.11 

Conclusion 

It can therefore be seen that Indra Sawhney Judgement was a landmark judgement in legal provisions of reservation. It clarified a lot of its provisions which remain unchanged. It infact laid down a workable and reasonable solution to the reservation in spite of the fact that the case had politicians trying to dilute the effect of the decision for political gain. 

Endnotes

1.  Hereinafter Mandal Commission. 

2.  No. 36012/31/90 – ESTT. (SCT) dated 13 August, 1990.

3.  Hereinafter SEBC.

4.  Dated 2 September,1991.

5.  This Judgment constituted six separate judgements covering almost 911 pages. 

6.  Held by the majority, vide para 57.

7.  AIR 1976 SC 490.

8.  AIR 1964 SC 179.

9.  Report of the Second Backward Classes Committee (New Delhi: Government of India, 198) 19 to 32; (hereinafter Mandal Commission)

10.  See, paras 86, 121(3)(d), 450-1.

11.  Vikaram Singh, “Constitutional Validity of Implementation of the Mandal Commission

Citation: AIR 1993 SC 477, 1992 Supp 2 SCR 454

Date of Judgement: 16th November 1992

Bench: M Kania, M Venkatachaliah, S R Pandian, . T Ahmadi, K Singh, P Sawant, R Sahai, B J Reddy

Laws and Acts applied in the case: Constitutional Law

During the year of 1953 under Article 340 the central government set up the First Backward Classes Commission also known as Kaka Kalelker Commission. The report was submitted by the commission in 1955. However it was never taken up and amounted to the rejection of the same. Then again in 1979 the Second Backward Classes Commission was set up1 by the President under Article 340(1) and it submitted its report on 31 December 1980, which was discussed in the Parliament and under examination till 1990. Finally an announcement was made by the then Prime Minister V.P. Singh, that 27% of the jobs in all central government offices and public institutions will be reserved for backward classes. The backward classes according to the first Office Memorandum2 would be for socially and economically backward classes3  for whom 27% of the seats would be reserved. This caused uproar in the country, leading to a lot of damage to property and loss of lives. Then one year later under the P.V. Narasimha Rap government a second Office Memorandum4 which introduced the concept of giving preference to poorer sections of SEBCs and 10% reservation will be provided to economically backward sections of the people not covered under the existing schemes. 

With nearly every campus in northern India in flames the matter came before the Supreme Court on the 11th September,1990. This inturn commenced a two – year long battle in the court between political opportunism and judicial pragmatism. 

Broad Issues to be Examined

On 16th November 1992 the largest constitutional bench of 9 judges decided the legal provision on reservation.5 Even though much of the controversy was regarding the Mandal Commission in the public the issues before the Supreme Court revolved around the nature and scope of the constitutional provision for reservations in public employment and discussed the concept of equality in the same environment. These issues can be categorised under the following sub headings:

  1. Extent and Scope of Article 16 (1) read with Article 16 (4).
  2. ‘Backward class of citizens’ and its definitive parameters.
  3. The criteria applicable for identification.
  4. Extent and Nature of reservation permissible. 

The ratio of the following judgement was 6:3. The dissenting judges were Justice T.K Thommen, Kuldip Singh and R. M. Sahai. 

Scope and Extent of Article 16(1) read with 16(4)

While considering this issue the main question was could Article 16(1) exist with Article 16 (4). The Bench agreed that both the clauses had the same scope of operation and that clause 4 was complementary to clause (1). The bench observed “clause (4) of Article 16 is not an exception to clause (1) of Article 16. It is an instance of classification implicit in and permitted by clause (1) … it must be read along with and in harmony with clause (1)”.6 Thus this Bench approved State of kerala v. N. M. Thomas7 and overruled the decision of T. Devadasen v. India.8 

According to six judges Article 16(4) it was only exhaustive of reservations for the backward classes alone and not the entire concept of reservation. However the minority concluded that Article 16(4) included all types of reservations and therefore it was violative of Article 16(1). 

Backward Class – its Definitive Parameters

There was a lot of discussion as to what constitutes a “class” in Article 16(4) the broad discussions are:

The Class – Caste Nexus

It was clarified that classification was not based on caste per se but on the bases of caste that was found to be a backward class which was not adequately represented in the services to the State. It even added by Justice Sawant that in order to constitute backward class, the caste concerned had to not only be backward per se but also concerned the social, economic and educational issues. Thus opinion of the judgement was in consensus with Mandal Commission that both the education and economical factors need to be considered.9 

Economic Criteria 

It was only Justice Kuldip Singh for the 10% reservation for economically backward class as he believed that it was poverty that breeds backwardness.

The creamy layer exclusionary was introduced but with a word of caution. It was the first time that the well – established principle of “creamy layer principle” allowing the entire group to be identified. It was observed by the majority judges which included Chief Justice Kania, and Justices Venkatachalaiah, Ahmadi and Jeevan Reddy observed:

In a backward class under clause (4) of Article 16, if the connecting link is the social

backwardness, it should broadly be the same in a given class. If some members are far

too advanced socially (which in the context necessarily means economically and may

also mean educationally), the connecting thread between them and the remaining class

snaps. They would be isfits in the class..”10

However this overlooks the judicially sanctioned legal framework contemplated by the founding fathers.11 

Conclusion 

It can therefore be seen that Indra Sawhney Judgement was a landmark judgement in legal provisions of reservation. It clarified a lot of its provisions which remain unchanged. It infact laid down a workable and reasonable solution to the reservation in spite of the fact that the case had politicians trying to dilute the effect of the decision for political gain. 

Endnotes

1.  Hereinafter Mandal Commission. 

2.  No. 36012/31/90 – ESTT. (SCT) dated 13 August, 1990.

3.  Hereinafter SEBC.

4.  Dated 2 September,1991.

5.  This Judgment constituted six separate judgements covering almost 911 pages. 

6.  Held by the majority, vide para 57.

7.  AIR 1976 SC 490.

8.  AIR 1964 SC 179.

9.  Report of the Second Backward Classes Committee (New Delhi: Government of India, 198) 19 to 32; (hereinafter Mandal Commission)

10.  See, paras 86, 121(3)(d), 450-1.

11.  Vikaram Singh, “Constitutional Validity of Implementation of the Mandal Commission


Shabri Bose

Author

Shabri hails from Gujarat National Law University and spends most of her time in researching, reading and debating. Her Interest area law and policy. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach us at editor@lawcirca.com

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