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Bihar Reservation Law and Breaching 50% Limit

  • 13 Dec 2023
  • 6 min read

For Prelims: Bihar Reservation Law and Breaching 50% Limit, Supreme Court (SC), Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Castes & Other Backward Classes, 77th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1995.

For Mains: Bihar Reservation Law and Breaching 50% Limit, Government Policies and Interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Source: TH

Why in News?

Recently, Bihar Reservation Laws were passed in Bihar Assembly, increasing the quantum of reservations in jobs and education in the State to 75%, breaching the 50% Rule upheld by the Supreme Court (SC).

  • This has sparked debate around the permissible limits of reservations in India, particularly in view of the “50%” limit prescribed by the Supreme Court of India in the Mandal Commission case (Indra Sawhney, 1992).

What are the Key Highlights of the Bihar Reservation Laws?

  • These laws are the Bihar Reservation of Vacancies in Posts and Services (for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes) Amendment Act-2023 and the Bihar (in admission in educational institutions) Reservation Amendment Act, 2023.
  • Under the amended Act, there will be a total of 65% reservation in both the cases, including 20% for Scheduled Castes, 2% for Scheduled Tribes, 18% for Backward Classes and 25% for Extremely Backward Classes.
  • Apart from this, EWS (people from economically weaker general category) already approved under the Central Act will continue to get 10 % reservation.

What is the 50% Rule?

  • About:
    • The 50% rule, historically upheld by the Supreme Court, dictates that reservations for jobs or education in India should not exceed 50% of the total seats or positions.
    • Initially established by a seven-judge bench in the 1963 M.R. In The Balaji case, reservations were considered an "exception" or "special provision" under the constitutional framework, thereby restricted to a maximum of 50% of available seats.
    • However, the understanding of reservations evolved in 1976 when it was acknowledged that reservations are not an exception but a component of equality. Despite this shift in perspective, the 50% limit remained unchanged.
    • A nine-judge bench in the Mandal commission case in 1990 reaffirmed the 50% limit and held that it is a binding rule, and not merely a matter of prudence. However, it is not a rule without exceptions
    • States may surpass the limit in specific circumstances, notably to provide reservations to communities marginalized and excluded from the social mainstream, irrespective of geographical location.
    • Moreover, the Supreme Court's recent affirmation of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment validates an additional 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).
      • This means that the 50% limit applies only to non-EWS reservations, and States are permitted to reserve a total of 60% of the seats/posts including EWS reservations.
  • Other States Crossing the Limit:
    • Other States that have already surpassed the 50% limit, even excluding the EWS quota, are Chhattisgarh (72%), Tamil Nadu (69%, under a 1994 Act protected under the ninth Schedule of the Constitution), and several north-eastern States including Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland (80% each).
    • Lakshadweep has a whopping 100% reservations for Scheduled Tribes.
    • Previous attempts by Maharashtra and Rajasthan have been struck down by the courts.

Constitution and Reservation

  • 77th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1995: The Indra Sawhney verdict had held there would be reservation only in initial appointments and not promotions.
    • However, addition of the article 16(4A) to the Constitution, empowered the state to make provisions for reservation in matters of promotion to SC/ST employees, if the state feels they are not adequately represented.
  • 81st Constitutional Amendment Act, 2000: It introduced Article 16(4B), which says unfilled SC/ST quota of a particular year, when carried forward to the next year, will be treated separately and not clubbed with the regular vacancies of that year.
  • 85th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2001: It provided for the reservation in promotion that can be applied with ‘consequential seniority’ for the government servants belonging to the SCs and STs with retrospective effect from June 1995.
  • 103rd amendment to the Constitution (2019): 10% reservation for EWS (Economically Weaker Section).
  • Article 335: It says that the claims of SCs and STs shall be taken into consideration constituently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.

Way Forward

  • Courts should reevaluate the 50% reservation cap considering evolving social dynamics, equity principles, and the changing socio-economic landscape.
  • Deliberate on expanding the exceptions beyond social exclusion to include broader criteria for communities facing historical disadvantages, irrespective of geographical boundaries.
  • Conduct a detailed review of the existing reservation policies, exploring their effectiveness, impact, and alignment with current societal needs.

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