Reservation in India

Reservation in India

Reservation in India

Reservation in India is a policy aimed at addressing historical and systemic disadvantages faced by certain groups within the Indian society, especially the marginalized communities.

  • The reservation system includes quotas in educational institutions, government jobs, and legislatures for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

Historical background of Reservation Policies:

  • The concept of a caste-based reservation system was initially proposed by William Hunter and JyotiraoPhule in 1882.

Communal Award of 1932:

  • The reservation system, as it exists today, was substantially shaped by the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s “Communal Award” in 1932.
  • The Communal Award introduced provisions for separate electorates, allocating reserved seats for various communities, including Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, and the Dalits (Scheduled Castes).
  • This award aimed to provide political representation to these communities based on their respective proportions in the population.

After India gained independence, the initial reservations were primarily provided for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).

Constitutional Provisions:

Part XVI deals with reservation of SC and ST in Central and State legislatures.

Article 15(4):

Article 15 of the Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.

Article 15(4) allows the state to make special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes, which includes the Scheduled Castes.

It empowers the state to provide reservations for SCs in educational institutions.

Article 15(5)

 93rd Amendment, 2006 – Provision of Reservation for Backward, SC, and ST classes in private educational institutions.

Article 45

 Under Directive Principles of State Policy, states have a duty to raise the standards of living and health of backward classes.

Article 39 A

 Under Directive Principles of State Policy – states have to ensure justice and free legal aid to Economically Backward Classes.

Article 46:

Although not specific to SCs, Article 46 of the Directive Principles of State Policy encourages the promotion of the educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other weaker sections.

Similar to Scheduled Castes, the provisions of Article 15(4) and Article 46 also apply to Scheduled Tribes.

These articles allow for special provisions to be made for the advancement of the STs in education and socio-economic development.

Article 338 and 338A:

Article 338 establishes a National Commission for Scheduled Castes, and Article 338A establishes a National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.

These constitutional bodies are responsible for monitoring the implementation of various safeguards and protection measures for the welfare of SCs and STs, including reservations.

Article 335:

Recognizes the claims of SCs and STs to services and posts. However, it states that the claims should not affect the efficiency of administration.

Article 340:

Allows the President to appoint a commission to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes, which led to the establishment of the Mandal Commission.

Article 243D 

provides reservation of seats for SCs and STs in every Panchayat.

Article 233T 

provides reservation of seats for SCs and STs in every Municipality.

The Mandal Commission report

The Mandal Commission report, officially known as the “Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission,” was a significant milestone in Indian social and political history.


The Mandal Commission was constituted in 1979 by the Janata Party government led by Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

The Commission’s primary objective was to identify and recommend measures for the upliftment of socially and educationally backward classes, with a particular focus on providing them with reservations in education and government jobs.

Key Findings and Recommendations:

Identification of Backward Classes:

  • The Commission identified the “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs) as a socially and educationally disadvantaged group that faced significant discrimination and underrepresentation in educational institutions and government employment.
  • The Mandal Commission estimated that around 52% of India’s population belonged to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), indicating the vast underrepresentation of OBCs in various sectors, including government jobs and education.

27% Reservation:

  • In response to this demographic representation, the Commission recommended that 27% of government jobs and seats in educational institutions (excluding religious and linguistic minority institutions) should be reserved for OBCs.
  • This was a substantial increase from the earlier 10% reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

 Comprehensive Lists: The Mandal Commission created two important lists:

  • The “All-India Other Backward Classes (OBC) List” with 3,743 castes.
  • This list included various communities that were recognized as OBCs based on the established indicators of backwardness.
  • The “Depressed Backward Classes List” with 2,108 castes.
  • These were considered more underprivileged within the OBC category, and the Commission recommended specific measures for their upliftment.

Quantitative Data:

  • The Commission collected extensive quantitative data through surveys and research to support its findings.
  • It established criteria for determining the backwardness of a community based on factors like education, income, occupation, and representation in government services.

The V.P. Singh government implemented the 27% reservation for OBCs in government jobs in 1990.

Introduction of Economic Criteria (1991):

In 1991, the Narasimha Rao government introduced two significant changes to the reservation policy:

A) Preference for Economically Weaker OBCs:

  • A portion of the 27% reservation was directed toward the economically weaker sections among the OBCs.
  • This marked the adoption of economic criteria in granting reservations, ensuring that disadvantaged OBC individuals had access to opportunities.

B) Reservation for Economically Backward Higher Castes:

  • Another noteworthy change was the reservation of 10% of government jobs for economically backward individuals from higher castes (not covered by any existing reservation schemes).
  • This aimed to address economic backwardness across different communities.

The IndraSawhney and Others v. Union of India

The IndraSawhney and Others v. Union of India case of 1992, often referred to as the Mandal Case, is a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India that significantly shaped the policies and jurisprudence regarding reservations and affirmative action in India.

Key Findings and Rulings:

Reservation Limit:

  • The Supreme Court upheld the concept of reservations but limited the overall reservation to 50%.
  • The Court ruled that reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and OBCs should not exceed half of the total available seats or vacancies.

Exclusion of Creamy Layer:

  • The judgment recommended the exclusion of the “creamy layer” among OBCs from the reservation benefits.
  • The creamy layer comprises OBC individuals with higher income and privileges.
  • This recommendation aimed to ensure that reservation benefits reached those who genuinely needed them.

No Reservation in Promotions:

  • The Court ruled that reservation should be applicable only to initial appointments (direct recruitment) and not in promotions within government jobs.
  • Existing reservations in promotions were allowed to continue for a limited period (up to five years).

50% Rule for Backlog Vacancies:

  • The Court upheld the “carry forward rule,” which allows unfilled reserved vacancies (backlog) to be carried forward for future recruitment cycles.
  • However, this should not lead to a violation of the 50% reservation cap.

Permanent Statutory Body:

  • The judgment recommended the establishment of a permanent statutory body to examine and scrutinize complaints of over-inclusion and under-inclusion in the list of OBCs.
  • This body’s role was to ensure fairness and transparency in the identification of OBCs.

The 77th Amendment Act

Before the 77th Amendment Act, the Constitution had provisions for reservations in initial appointments (Article 16(4)) but did not explicitly address reservations in promotions.

The 77th Amendment Act introduced a new clause, Article 16(4A), which specifically empowered the government to provide for reservations in matters of promotion for SCs and STs in public posts.

The M. Nagaraj and Others v. Union of India case

The case revolved around the constitutional validity of Article 16(4-A) and 16(4-B) of the Indian Constitution, which provide for reservations in promotions for SCs and STs.

It was a landmark case that considered the balance between ensuring social justice for historically disadvantaged groups and protecting the efficiency and administrative requirements of the public administration.

Key Findings and Rulings:

No Presumption of Backwardness:

  • The Supreme Court held that there should be no presumption of the backwardness of SCs and STs.
  • The burden of proving backwardness lies on the state, and adequate data should be available to demonstrate the necessity for reservations in promotions.

Quantifiable Data:

  • The Court ruled that the state should collect quantifiable data on the adequacy of representation of SCs and STs in government jobs and promotions.
  • This data should form the basis for decision-making regarding reservations.

Efficiency of Administration:

  • The judgment emphasized that while providing reservations in promotions, the state should ensure that it does not compromise the overall efficiency of public administration.
  • It allowed the “maintenance of efficiency” as a valid ground to deny promotions through reservation.

Period of Initial Promotion:

  • The judgment upheld the validity of Article 16(4-A) and 16(4-B) but imposed certain conditions.
  • It ruled that the reservations in promotions are permissible for a specific period, after which the state must review their continuing necessity.

Provisions of the Central Educational Institutions Act, 2006:

This act provides for the reservation of seats for students belonging to various categories, including Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Central Educational Institutions.

 Reservation of Seats:

  • Scheduled Castes (SCs): The act provides for a reservation of 15% of total seats for students belonging to the Scheduled Castes.
  • Scheduled Tribes (STs): The act mandates a reservation of 7.5% of total seats for students from the Scheduled Tribes.
  • Other Backward Classes (OBCs): The act reserves 27% of total seats for students from the Other Backward Classes.
  • The act applies to Central Educational Institutions, which include universities, institutions deemed to be universities, and institutions receiving financial assistance from the central government.
  • The provisions of this act came into effect from the academic year beginning in 2007.

This means that reservations for SCs, STs, and OBCs in Central Educational Institutions became applicable from that academic year.

The Jarnail Singh vs. LachhmiNarain Gupta case judgment

  • The court clarified that there is no requirement to collect quantifiable data to demonstrate the backwardness of SCs and STs to provide them with reservations in promotions.
  • The court reaffirmed that the “creamy layer” principle is applicable to SCs and STs, and individuals from the “creamy layer” should not be entitled to reservations.
  • The court held that inadequacy of representation in public services can be a relevant consideration for providing reservations in promotions for SCs and STs, as long as it does not breach the overall 50% ceiling on reservations, and the concept of “efficiency in administration” is not compromised.

 The 103rd Constitutional Amendment

  • In 2019, the Government of India introduced a significant change to the reservation policy through the 103rd Constitutional Amendment.
  • This amendment provided 10% reservation to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of the population.
  • This was a historic development because it marked the first time that reservation was extended based on economic criteria rather than social or educational backwardness.
  • The term “Economically Weaker Sections” refers to individuals or families who, despite not belonging to the traditionally recognized reserved categories (like SCs, STs, and OBCs), may still face economic disadvantages and challenges.
  • The 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act introduced a 10% quota for EWS in addition to the existing reservations.

This means that the total reservation in government jobs and educational institutions can now exceed 50%, as the 10% EWS reservation is separate from the existing reservations for SCs, STs, and OBCs.

  • To implement this new EWS reservation, the Indian Constitution was amended.

Article 15 and Article 16 of the Constitution were amended to include provisions for EWS reservation.