In a major judgement, the Supreme Court ruled that reservation for appointments and promotions to public posts is “not a fundamental right”.
The apex court in its ruling on Friday stated that there is “no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions”, and also no court can order a state government to provide for reservation to SC/STs.
“In view of the law laid down by this Court, 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,” a bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta said.
With the new judgement, the Supreme Court has overturned a 2012 ruling by the Uttarakhand High Court that directed the state to provide quotas to specified communities.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Colin Gonsalves and Dushyant Dave had then argued that it was the duty of the state to help SCs/STs under Articles 16(4) and 16(4-A) of the Constitution.
Citing the necessity of relevant data collection regarding the representation of SC/STs in public jobs, the apex court emphasized this exercise is pre-requisite to begin reservation. And this data collection exercise is not required when the state government decided not to provide reservations.
The top court observed the state government has the absolute discretion to decide whether or not to provide for reservation in jobs or reservation in promotions. Also, the state government is not under any obligation to do so.
Citing its judgement, the bench said that Article 16(4) and 16(4-A) are enabling provisions and the collection of quantifiable data showing the inadequacy of representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in public service is a “sine qua non for providing reservations in promotions.”
The top court also clarified that a state government is bound to collect data regarding the inadequacy of representation of SCs/STs in government services when it wants to provide reservation but otherwise. The top court also observed that the state cannot be issued directions to provide reservations for appointment in public posts. “The State is not bound to make reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in matters of promotions”, added the court.
However, if a situation arises where such provisions were to be introduced, then the state government concerned should collect quantifiable data, which exhibits inadequacy of representation of that class in public services. And, this data would have to be brought on record before the court when a challenge is laid to the reservation policies.
The court observed, “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 Scheduled Tribes in State services. Even if the under-representation 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.”
The apex court also observed that the inadequacy of representation of SC/STs 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,” added the court.
The ruling of the top court came on a clutch of petitions connected with reservation to SCs and STs in promotions in the posts of Assistant Engineer (Civil) in Public Works Department, Government of Uttarakhand, where the government had decided against reservations. But, the High Court asked the state to first collect quantifiable data connected with representation of SCs/STs, and decide on the matter. The High Court also gave another direction that all future vacancies that are to be filled up by promotion in the posts of assistant engineer, should only be from the members of SCs and STs. The apex court set aside these directions.
(With agency inputs)