SC Upholds Karnataka Law Granting Reservation In Promotion For SC-ST | 11 May 2019

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act 2018.

Background of this Judgement

  • In Indra Sawhney vs Union of India, the Supreme Court had held that reservations under Article 16(4) could only be provided at the time of entry into government service but not in matters of promotion.
  • In 1995, Parliament, acting in its constituent capacity, adopted the 77th amendment by which clause (4A) was inserted into Article 16 to enable reservation to be made in promotion for SCs and STs.
  • The validity of the 77th and 85th amendments to the Constitution and of the legislation enacted in pursuance of those amendments was challenged before the Supreme Court in the Nagaraj case. The SC upheld the constitutional validity of these amendments and ruled that:
    • If the state “wished to exercise their discretion and make provision (for reservation in promotions for SCs/STs), the State has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation and compliance to Article 335”.
    • It will have to see that its reservation provision does not breach the ceiling-limit of 50%.
  • The Karnataka Determination of Seniority of the Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of the Reservation Act 2002 was held to be unconstitutional [in BK Pavitra CASE] on the ground that an exercise for determining 'inadequacy of representation', 'backwardness' and the impact on 'overall efficiency' had not preceded the enactment of the law.

Why this is Significant

This Supreme Court order is significant because it underlines “a ‘meritorious’ candidate is not merely one who is ‘talented ‘or ‘successful’ but also one whose appointment fulfils the constitutional goals of uplifting members of the SCs and STs and ensuring a diverse and representative administration”.

Basis for the Judgement

  • The providing of reservation for SCs and STs is not at odds with the principle of meritocracy. Merit must not be limited to narrow and inflexible criteria such as one’s rank in a standardised exam, but rather must flow from the actions a society seeks to reward, including the promotion of equality in society and diversity in public administration.
  • Article 335 recognises that special measures need to be adopted for considering the claims of SCs and STs in order to bring them to a level-playing field. Centuries of discrimination and prejudice suffered by the SCs and STs in a feudal, caste-oriented societal structure poses real barriers of access to opportunity.

Judges Verdict on Efficiency

  • Efficiency of administration in the affairs of the Union or of a State must be defined in an inclusive sense, where diverse segments of society find representation as a true aspiration of governance by and for the people.
  • The Constitution mandates realisation of substantive equality in the engagement of the fundamental rights with the directive principles, inclusion, together with the recognition of the plurality and diversity of the nation constitutes a valid constitutional basis for defining efficiency.
  • If efficiency is grounded in exclusion, it will produce a pattern of governance which is skewed against the marginalised.