SC/ST promotion quota: Supreme Court reserves verdict

The Supreme Court on Tuesday has reserved its verdict on the reservation in promotions matter after hearing a batch of petitions seeking guidelines regarding reservation in promotion for candidates in government services belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

A three-judge bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao, Justice Sanjeev Khanna and Justice B.R. Gavai heard all parties in the matter and observed the Government is making efforts to ensure adequate representation in Groups B and C instead of improving the situation in Group A ranks.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal in his submissions told the Court that even after seven decades of Independence, members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are struggling to come into the mainstream. Venugopal reiterated that it was still tough for a member of the SC/ST to reach the 'Group A' category jobs.

“In providing reservation to the backward classes, the exemptions has been given to them regarding marks, qualification, age considering the fact that they have been considered untouchables for a long period of time and they have not been granted equal chance in any field whether education or work. That is why the provision of providing reservation has been established in the Constitution of India. Reservation provisions have been made to provide opportunity under Article 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution of India,” the Attorney General submitted.

He further submitted reservation provisions are enshrined in 1950 itself and been implemented for the last 70 years. "So there is no question of if it should be there or not. The question this Court has to test is the method of implementation. It is the duty of the Court to suggest the method and in my suggestion, there has to be a limit. So far as 15(4) and 16(4) has been concerned this covers all education institution and all other sectors. There has to be a principle on which the reservation has to be made."

In the Written Submission and additional WS submitted by him, Venugopa submitted that in the State of Tripura, the reservation is granted to Backward Classes is in proportion to the population of the state based on the Census 2011 i.e.  17% to SC and 31% to ST. No reservation has been granted to OBCs as no OBC population exists in the state. This arrangement fully satisfied the purpose of Article 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution of India.

Venugopal has suggested to the Court that reservation can be provided in accordance with the post-based roster introduced in 2006 in Nagaraj judgement. He submitted that roster is only a reflection of the proportion of population and that’s why Court has considered the roster in Sabharwal case and the same was approved in Nagaraj case. He has further requested the court not to strike down what has been done. Whatever has been done in Jarnail Singh is totally unsatisfied.

The 2006 judgment of the Supreme Court in M. Nagaraj & Others vs Union of India upheld the validity of Article 16 (4A) — a special provision which provides for reservation for promotion only to SCs and STs and the government can provide reservation in promotions, provided it is backed by persuasive reasons such as proof of backwardness and inadequacy of representation and to make sure that it does not affect the overall efficiency of administration.

M. Nagaraj also held that the states should gather quantifiable data showing backwardness and such observation is in contravention of Indra Sawhney judgment which was passed by a 9-member bench of the court. The Constitution Bench of 5 judges, however, expressed their opinion since Article 16(4a) and left it to the states to make adequate representation in posts for promotion to SC and ST categories.

On September 26, 2018, the Constitution Bench, headed by the then CJI Dipak Misra, former Justice Kurian Joseph, former Justice R.F. Nariman, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and former Justice Indu Malhotra reached the conclusion that the judgment in Nagaraj (supra) does not need to be referred to a seven–judge bench.