Case Description

The Court looked into whether reservations for SCs and STs should extend to promotions, by assessing its 2006 Nagaraj judgement.


On 26th September, the Court delivered its verdict. It did not call for a review of Nagaraj. Further, it struck down the demonstration of backwardness provision from Nagaraj:


In 2006, the Court delivered its judgment in M. Nagaraj v. Union of India. In it, the Court validated Parliament’s decision to extend reservations for SC/STs to include promotions (reservation in promotion). However, the Court also laid down conditions which made it difficult for the Central and State Governments to grant such reservations.


Specifically, the Nagaraj judgement laid down three controlling conditions that the State must meet prior to granting a SC/ST a reservation in promotion. First, the State must show the backwardness of the class. Second, it must show that the class is inadequately represented in the position/service for which reservations in promotion will be granted. Finally, it must show that the reservations are in the interest of administrative efficiency. 


The Constitutional Bench in Nagaraj validated the following constitutional amendments made by Parliament:


Parliament made these amendments to nullify the effect of the Court’s judgement in Indra Sawhney. In Indra Sawhney, a nine-judge Bench had ruled that reservations in appointments, granted to the State by Article 16(4), do not apply to promotions.


Article 16(4A) enables the State to make any law regarding reservation in promotion for SC/STs. Article16(4B) provides that reserved promotion posts for SC/STs that remain unfilled, can be carried forward to the subsequent year. Article 16 (4B) also ensures that the ceiling on the reservation quota -- capped at 50% by Indra Sawhney -- for these carried forward unfilled posts does not apply to subsequent years.


Article 335 mandates that reservations have to be balanced with the ‘maintenance of efficiency’. The 2001 amendment to Article 335 clarified that the Article will not apply to the State relaxing evaluation standards in ‘in matters of promotion’.


The current issue arose from an appeal by the State of Tripura against the judgment of the Tripura High Court.  Tripura High Court had struck down  Section 4(2) of the Tripura Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Vacancies in Services and Posts) Act, 1991 as being in violation of the three controlling conditions laid down in Nagaraj.


A Division Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising of Justices Kurian Joseph and R. Banumathi, heard the appeal and decided to refer the case to a Constitution Bench on 14th November 2017. Various other matters were tagged to the appeal.


The Division Bench called on the Constitution Bench to revisit the Nagaraj judgement. In the Nagaraj judgment, the Court failed to refer to the earlier EV Chinnaiah case.


Furthermore, the Court evaluated whether the Nagaraj judgement violates the Indra Sawhney ruling. Does the Nagaraj judgement fail to recognize SC/STs inherent underprivilege, by requiring the State to reassess the backwardness of SC/STs, thereby violating Indra Sawhney?


On 26th September, the Court delivered its verdict. It did not call for a review of Nagaraj. Further, it struck down the demonstration of backwardness provision from Nagaraj. However, while doing so, it introduced the creamy layer exclusion principle, thus requiring that the State does not extend reservations in promotion to SC/ST individuals who belong to the creamy layer of the said SC/ST.


1) Whether Nagaraj, which upheld reservation in promotions for SC/STs, was correctly decided?

2) Whether Nagaraj violates the Indra Sawhney judgement by requiring SC/STs to be proved as backward afresh in questions of reservation in promotion?