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The Supreme Court today held that the judgment in M Nagaraj v. Union of India that deals with reservations in promotions for the SC/ST community need not be referred to a seven-judge Constitution Bench.
The Bench held that the judgment in Nagaraj is wrong to the extent that it directs the collection of quantifiable data for providing reservations.
This unanimous judgment was penned by Justice Rohinton Nariman on behalf of the Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and Indu Malhotra.
The Judgement also specifies that the concept of “creamy layer” which was applicable only for Other Backward Classes (OBC) can be made applicable by the Courts to SC/STs also in the interest of equality among the sub-groups. The judgment, in this regard, reads as:
“The whole object of reservation is to see that backward classes of citizens move forward so that they may march hand in hand with other citizens of India on an equal basis. This will not be possible if only the creamy layer within that class bag all the coveted jobs in the public sector and perpetuate themselves, leaving the rest of the class as backward as they always were.”
This application of creamy layer principle to the SC/ST by Courts does not go against Articles 341 and 342 and the Presidential list which enumerates the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the Court said. It will only exclude those individuals from availing the benefit of reservation who have come out of untouchability or backwardness on account of belonging to the creamy layer.
“The caste or group or sub-group named in the said List continues exactly as before. It is only those persons within that group or sub-group, who have come out of untouchability or backwardness by virtue of belonging to the creamy layer, who are excluded from the benefit of reservation.
…Similarly, constitutional courts, when applying the principle of reservation, will be well within their jurisdiction to exclude the creamy layer from such groups or sub-groups when applying the principles of equality under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India.”
Besides upholding the concept of creamy layer for the SC/ST communities, the Court also stated that the precursor of collecting quantifiable data to determine backwardness of the SC/ST communities as laid down in the Nagaraj judgment was bad in law.
Although, quantifiable data as regards determining inadequacy of representation still holds ground for framing Policy for accelerated reservations. The Court also said that the administrative efficiency will also continue to be a factor while forming this policy.
“Thus, we conclude that the judgment in Nagaraj (supra) does not need to be referred to a seven–Judge Bench. However, the conclusion in Nagaraj (supra) that the State has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, being contrary to the nine-Judge Bench in Indra Sawhney (1) (supra) is held to be invalid to this extent”, the judgmented concluded.
The Constitution Bench was set up to decide whether the 2006 judgment in M Nagaraj v. Union of India needs reconsideration. The Nagaraj judgment dealt with the question of reservation in promotions for members of the SC/ST communities. In Nagaraj, the Supreme Court had laid down the criteria for the same.
The Court had held that while state governments are not bound to provide reservations for the benefit of SC/ST communities when it comes to promotions, they must fulfill certain criteria should they choose to implement such a policy.
The said policy for reservations could be formed by state governments based on the following factors:
Backwardness of the class;
Inadequacy of representation in the Service; and
Compliance with Article 335 of the Constitution of India
The questions of backwardness of a certain class and the extent of representation, or lack thereof, would be determined based on the quantifiable data which state governments were required to collect and collate.
The said policy for reservation in promotion could not exceed the ceiling of 50 per cent, obliterate the principle of creamy layer, or extend the reservation indefinitely, according to the judgement in Nagaraj.
“It is made clear that even if the State has compelling reasons, as stated above, the State will have to see that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness so as to breach the ceiling-limit of 50% or obliterate the creamy layer or extend the reservation indefinitely”, it was held.
During the course of the hearing, the principles laid down by the Supreme Court in three judgments were invoked – Indra Sawhney and others v. Union of India, EV Chinnaiah v. the State of AP and M Nagaraj and others v. Union of India and others.
Read the Judgment: