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Law of Reservation in The Indian Constitution

Written By: Vijit Dubey



Reservation Policy in India reserves a proportion of seats (maximum 50%) for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward classes, etc. in government educational institutions, government employment, etc.

India's reservation policy is ancient. Its origins are in ancient times when 'untouchability,' caste system, and the Varna system were prevalent. Ancient Hindu society was separated into Varna, Jatis, or classes: Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Shudras. "Untouchables" or "avarna" are classless individuals. Untouchables were ostracized from society as impure. Outside the community and without social privileges. If their shadow fell on upper-class individuals in Southern India, they were deemed unclean. If they broke a social norm, they were severely punished or perhaps murdered. The separation of society based on purity and impurity was a brutal system that hindered the development and advancement of lower-class individuals, whose talent and labour was acknowledged based on their caste. In Mahabharata, a Shudra warrior like Karna was not permitted to demonstrate his skill. Because of his caste, he was called 'Shudra Putra' The prevailing caste structure prompted India's Reservation Policy. Because of widespread crimes against a single group, reserves were created. To offer them an equal chance, a standing in society, to raise them socially, to put them at par with other parts of society, and to bring development to the lowest strata of society, India adopted the Reservation Policy.

Reservation Policy of India before Independence

India's reservation policy was founded by the Government of India Act, 1919, which was enacted during World War I. Despite enacting crucial legislation to create the Indian Territory, the British were more focused on Europe than India at the time. The Indian Government Reform Act of 1919 not only altered Indian government structures but also established communal electorates. The system was challenged by Montague-Chelmsford as a barrier to self-development, but Muslims already had a communal electorate thanks to the Minto-Morley reform of 1909, so it was unfeasible to remove their separate electorates.

The Montague-Chelmsford modifications were considered by the Simon Commission in 1927, after the 1919 Act. After visiting all of India's provinces, its delegates proposed merging separate electorates and reserving seats for the poor, who lacked the financial, educational, and social resources to vote. The Simon Commission's recommendations and revisions were examined during a Round Table Conference in London in 1931, with the goal of incorporating them into a new Constitution. Delegations from several Indian interest groups were dispatched. The conference was headed by Ramsay Macdonald. B.R. Ambedkar advocated for a separate electorate for the poor, while Mahatma Gandhi was adamantly opposed. As a result, the issue of minorities at the Conference remained unresolved.

Following that, the Communal Award and the Poona Pact of 1932 took effect. Prime Minister Macdonald announced the communal prize, which included delegates from Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, and Dalits. Seats for the depressed classes were to be chosen in special districts with solely depressed class voters.

The prize was attacked by Mahatma Gandhi, while it was lauded by BR Ambedkar and minority organizations. The Poona Pact of 1932, which established a single general electorate for each British India seat and new Central Legislatures, was the result of Mahatma Gandhi's hunger strike and public movement against the award. The Poona Pact's reservation of seats for disadvantaged classes was incorporated in the Government of India Act of 1935. This occurred before India's independence.

Post-independence Era

After India attained its independence in August 15 1945, it changed the entire scenario of the Reservation policy as it gained greater impetus than before. The constituent assembly led by Dr B.R. Ambedkar framed and enacted the Reservation policy and many of its Articles in the Indian Constitution.

Part XVI of the Indian Constitution deals with the Reservation of Schedule Cast and Schedule Tribes in central and state legislatures.

Article 15(4)- special provision for Advancement of backward classes -

State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan [1] led to the Constitution (1st Amendment) Act, 1951 adding Article 15(4). The Madras government reserved places in state medical and engineering institutions based on religion, caste, and race. The state justified the legislation by saying it was designed to promote social fairness for all persons, as required by Article 46 of the Directive Principles of State Policy. The Supreme Court ruled the statute unconstitutional because it categorized individuals by caste and religion, not merit. Constitution (1st Amendment) Act, 1951 altered Article 15 to adjust decision effects. Under this article, the state may progress socially and educationally disadvantaged persons or Scheduled Castes and Tribes. After the amendment, the state might create a Harijan Colony to help backward classes.

Article 15(5)- provision for Reservation of Backward, ST and SC classes in private educational institutions (93rd Amendment of Indian Constitution)

Article 15(5) states that Nothing in article 15 or sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of Article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30.

The amendment overturns three Supreme Court decisions in the cases of TM Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka [2], Islamic Academy v. State of Karnataka [3], and P.A Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra [4]. The court held in T.M Pai and P.A. Inamdar that the state cannot reserve seats in privately owned and operated schools. The court held in the Islamic Academy case that the state may establish admission quotas but not fees, and that admission can be based on a common test and merit. The state may reserve admission to private schools for certain subjects under this amendment. Minority schools are not included in the amendment. Discrimination based on religion is prohibited under Article 15. Reservations have negative consequences. Politicians who claim to be bringing the country into the twenty-first century, where merit-based higher education is required, are reserving seats at private institutions for less qualified students. Appeasement by this administration may assist in elections, but it is harmful to the nation.

Article 16(4)- Reservation of Backward classes in public employment

The state is granted the authority under Article 16(4) to create specific provisions for the reservation in appointments of positions in favour of any backward class of persons who, in the State's judgment, are not properly represented in the services under the State's jurisdiction.

Articles 330-342 talk about the special provisions for the certain class of people such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Anglo –Indians, Linguistic minorities and Other Backward Cast.

Article 335 - The Article stipulates that the State is required to take into consideration the claims of members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to any seats in administrative positions, but this obligation is limited to situations in which appointing the above said members will increase the effectiveness of the administrative system. At no point in time is it necessary for the state to provide the members with their seats based purely on the social standing they have in the community.

Without putting a damper on the aspirations of SCs and STs, this article acts as a compass for the state to use while carrying out its responsibilities under the constitution.

Landmark Judgements regarding reservation Policy

Indra Sawhney v. UOI [5] – The Mandal case

The Supreme Court's 9-judge Constitution Bench found 6:3 that the Union Government's plan to reserve 27% of government seats for backward castes is lawful. Total reserved seats are restricted to first appointments and cannot exceed 50%. The court affirmed two challenged notices (OM) dated August 13, 1990, and September 25, 1991, as legitimate and enforceable, but excluded socially advanced people (Creamy layer among Backward Classes). The court overturned Congress's OM reserving 10% of federal jobs for the poor.

16(4-A) and 16(4-B) were added after Mandal. Clause 4-A states, "Nothing in this Article shall prevent the state from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the state service in favour of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which in the State's opinion are not adequately represented. Clause 4-B seeks to eliminate the 50% backlog restriction for SC/ST and BC due to a shortage of eligible candidates.

M.R. Balaji and Ors. v. State of Mysore [6]

Mysore declared all communities excluding Brahmins socially and educationally backward under Article 15(4) of the Constitution and reserved 75% of Educational Institution seats for SEBCs and SCs/STs. Repeated The reservations were given annually with minimal fluctuation.

The Supreme Court struck down this decree under Article 32 of the Constitution, saying that backwardness is both social and educational. Caste in regard to Hindus may be a crucial component, but it cannot be the primary and dominating criteria for socio-economic backwardness.

While there is no set range for issuing reservations, it must be less than 50%.

State Of Uttar Pradesh v. Pradeep Tondon [7]

The state government ordered medical school seat reservations. This reservation was for-

Rural, hilly and Uttarakhand Area.

Supreme Court overturned this order. The Court classified geographical and territorial regions because candidates from these areas were socially and culturally backwards. The court upheld the reservation for applicants from hill regions and Uttarakhand because impoverished and illiterate people in distant and sparsely populated areas lacked communication, technological procedures, and educational resources.

Rural candidates weren't given the same reservation. The claim that people in rural regions are impoverished and those in urban areas are not was shown to be untrue.


Should Backward classes be given reservation or not?

The quota policy in India was created to elevate castes enslaved to abuses, and social and economic backwardness owing to the Hindu caste system. But this justification has lost its core in the present period, and the castes who should profit aren't, while others gain from a quota system not designed for them. Today, politicians use reservations to get votes. The recent movement by the Patels of Gujarat to be included in the OBC category shocked the whole country since they were neither socially nor economically disadvantaged.

In Tamil Nadu, the reservation system caused mayhem for society because the Brahmans skillfully positioned themselves as backward and benefited much from it.

It's hard to say whether the Reservation policy is good or bad because those who gain from it will always say it's good and those who lose will always say it's terrible. What matters most is the principle and purpose behind the reservation policy, not whether it's good or terrible. If this rationale loses its meaning, the reservation policy will deteriorate.

Political indulgence in reservation has become a vote-buying ploy. Critics have also criticized reservation standards. The socially and economically disadvantaged groups are not genuinely socially and economically backwards; the caste label is enough to benefit from reservations. The reservation policy is fine so long as no worthy applicant misses out. I don't see why unworthy kids should be admitted. If these groups were denied opportunity in the past, the same is true now. Undeserving people shouldn't benefit from worthy people's work. It's also necessary to retain the substance of the reservation policy and help genuine backward classes who are denied education, jobs, etc.

This reservation strategy shouldn't be a way for people who are socially and economically more stable than the general class to gain profit, money, and other interests.


  1. AIR 1951 SC 226

  2. AIR 2003 SC 355

  3. AIR 2003 SC 3724

  4. Air 2005 SC 3226

  5. AIR 1993 SC 477

  6. AIR 1963 SC 649

  7. AIR 1975 SC 563





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