Justice Nariman’s Impact on Reservation in Promotions

Nariman J clarified the scope of reservation in promotions for SC/ST's and Persons with Disability (PwDs).

Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman retired on August 12th 2021. In this post we highlight how his judgments clarified the scope of reservation in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) and Persons with Disability (PwDs).


No Need to Prove Backwardness

In M. Nagraj v Union of India (2006), the Supreme Court laid down three conditions for granting reservations in promotions to SC/STs. If the State wanted to grant reservation to a certain SC/ST group, it had to: first, demonstrate the ‘current backwardness’ of the group; second, show that this group lacked representation in public employment and third, prove that if reservation is granted, there would be no compromise in the efficiency of administration.


The first requirement to demonstrate current backwardness made it difficult for states to grant reservations for certain SC/ST groups.  In Jarnail Singh v Lacchmi Narain Gupta (2018), writing for the majority opinion, Narima J held that the State need not demonstrate backwardness to provide reservations in promotions to SC/STs.


Creamy Layer Applicable to Reservations in Promotions for SC/STs

‘Creamy Layer’ refers to those amongst Other Backward Classes (OBC) who were economically and socially advanced. This term was introduced in Indira Sawhney and held that the creamy layer of the OBC would be excluded from any OBC reservation benefits.


In Jarnail Singh, Nariam J extended the creamy layer exclusion to the reservation for SC/STs in public employment. He stated that the purpose of the principle was to ensure that equals are treated the same, and unequals are treated differently. The ‘forward’ among SC/STs must be treated differently from those that are ‘backward’, so that they can avail the benefits of reservation.


Reservations for PwDs and SC/STs

In Siddaraju v State of Karnataka (2020) Nariman affirming the Court’s earlier judgments, held that PwDs were entitled to reservations in promotions. In this judgement Nariman also clarified how the constitutional foundations for reservations in promotions for PwDs is different from SC/STs. While the former rests on Article 16(4) the latter emerges out of Article 16(1).