Can State be compelled to make reservations for SC/ST candidates in public posts? Supreme Court says no
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Can State be compelled to make reservations for SC/ST candidates in public posts? Supreme Court says no

“The language in clauses (4) and (4-A) of Article 16 [of the Constitution] is clear, according to which, the inadequacy of representation is a matter within the subjective satisfaction of the State", the Supreme Court observed.

Meera Emmanuel

The Supreme Court on Friday (Mukesh Kumar & Others vs State of Uttarakhand and others) emphasised that the State cannot be compelled to make reservations for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) members in public posts, given that provisions concerning the same under Articles 16 and 16A of the Constitution are enabling provisions.

As stated in the judgment passed by Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta,

... there is no doubt that the State Government is not bound to make reservations. There is no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions. No mandamus can be issued by the Court directing the State Government to provide reservations.
Supreme Court

If the State makes reservations invoking the enabling provisions under Article 16 of the Constitution, the same should be based on qualifiable data concerning the backwardness of the target community and the inadequacy of their representation in public posts.

However, where the State has not decided to make reservations, they cannot be compelled to do otherwise or compile information regarding the inadequacy of the target communities in public posts, the Court clarified.

Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta
Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta

Factual Backdrop

The Bench passed the ruling in a batch of appeals challenging High Court verdicts concerning reservation for SC/ST candidates in the Public Works Department of Uttarakhand.

On September 5, 2012, the Uttarakhand Government decided that all posts in public services in the State would be filled up without providing any reservation to SC/ST candidates. A challenge made to this decision saw the High Court set aside the September 5, 2012 proceedings in April 2019.

On review, the High Court, however, admitted that it had made an error. While it opined that Article 16 (4A) was only an enabling provision, it also directed State Government to collect quantifiable data regarding inadequacy of the representation of SC/ST candidates in Government services. The High Court opined that this data would enable the State Government to take a considered decision on providing or not providing reservation.

A challenge to his verdict, and other High Court verdicts touching upon similar issues, were disposed of by the Supreme Court together on Friday.

Arguments that there is no fundamental right to claim reservations in appointments or promotions to public posts were made by Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar for some of the appellants, as well as Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi and PS Narsimha for the Uttarakhand government.

Appearing for several reserved category employees, Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal, Dushyant Dave and Colvin Gonsalves took a contrary stance, arguing that the State cannot refuse to collect quantifiable data regarding the adequacy or inadequacy of representation of the SC/ST candidates in public services.

They submitted that there is an obligation on the State to provide reservations in promotions for upliftment of the members of the SC/ST as mandated by Article 16(4) and 16(4-A) of the Constitution.

It was argued that the right to equality of persons belonging to SC/ST communities cannot be defeated by the State Government only by not discharging its constitutional obligation of implementing Article 16(4) and 16(4-A) of the Constitution.

Issue before the Court

In view of the rival contentions, the questions before the Court were,

  • Is the State Government is bound to make reservations in public posts?

  • Can a decision by the State Government not to provide reservations only be on the basis of quantifiable data relating to adequacy of representation of SC/ST persons? In other words, should the Government first satisfy itself that there is adequate representation of SC/ST candidates before deciding not to make reservations?

Decision

The Supreme Court eventually reiterated the State has the prerogative to decide whether or not to introduce reservations in public posts.

Article 16 (4) and 16 (4-A) empower the State to make reservation in matters of appointment and promotion in favour of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes ‘if in the opinion of the State they are not adequately represented in the services of the State’. It is for the State Government to decide whether reservations are required in the matter of appointment and promotions to public posts."

The Court proceeded to note,

The language in clauses (4) and (4-A) of Article 16 is clear, according to which, the inadequacy of representation is a matter within the subjective satisfaction of the State. The State can form its own opinion on the basis of the material it has in its possession already or it may gather such material through a Commission/Committee, person or authority. All that is required is that there must be some material on the basis of which the opinion is formed.”

The Bench added, “The Court should show due deference to the opinion of the State which does not, however, mean that the opinion formed is beyond judicial scrutiny altogether.”

In view of these observations, the Supreme Court opined that the Uttarakhand High Court had erred in quashing the Government’s decision to not provide reservation in promotions back in September 2012.

“As the Government is not bound to provide reservation in promotions, we are of the opinion that there is no justifiable reason for the High Court to have declared the proceeding dated 05.09.2012 as illegal.”

Supreme Court

In sum, the Bench has concluded:

  • The collection of data regarding the inadequate representation of members of the Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes is a pre requisite for providing reservations,

  • Such collection is not required when the State Government decided not to provide reservations.

  • Not being bound to provide reservations in promotions, the State is not required to justify its decision on the basis of quantifiable data, showing that there is adequate representation of members of the Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes in State services.

  • Even if the underrepresentation of Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes in public services is brought to the notice of this Court, no mandamus can be issued by this Court to the State Government to provide reservation in light of the law laid down by this Court in CA Rajendran v. Union of India and Suresh Chand Gautam v. State of UP.

[Read the Judgment]

Supreme Court - Reservations and Promotiosn in Public Posts - Uttarakhand PWD.pdf
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