The Desk

Reservation in Promotion: Court in Review

Tracing the history of litigation surrounding reservations granted for promotions in public employment.

Reservation in promotion pertains to reservations granted to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) for promotions in public employment. It has been a bitterly contested issue between the Supreme Court and Parliament. In 1992 the Court, in its Indra Sawhney judgment, found that Article 16(4) does not allow for reservation in promotion. Then, between 1995 and 2000, Parliament enacted a series of Constitutional Amendments that legalized reservation in promotion. In 2006, the Court responded with its Nagaraj judgement, which placed strict conditions on when the State could grant a SC/ST reservation in promotion.


1992: Indra Sawhney v UOI

A nine-judge Bench held that Article 16(4) does not grant reservation in promotion because it pertains only to reservation in appointments.

The judgement put all reservations in promotion granted to SCs/STs in public employment at risk.

The Court took this into account. Its judgement allowed reservation in promotion to continue for five years post 16th November, 1992.


1995: Article 16(4A) – 77th Amendment

In 1995, the Government nullified the effect of Indra Sawhneyby introducing Article 16(4A) through the 77th Amendment of the Constitution.

Article 16(4A) allowed the State to provide reservations to a SC/ST in matters of promotion, as long as the State believes that the SC/ST is not adequately represented in government services.


1996: Introduction of Catch Up Rule – Ajit Singh v State of Punjab

After reservation in promotion was constitutionally recognized, it lead to a situation where reserved category candidates, who were promoted over general class counterparts, became their senior due to earlier promotion.

This anomaly was addressed by two judgments Virpal Singh (1995) and Ajit Singh (1996), which introduced the concept of a Catch Up Rule. The rule held that senior general candidates who were promoted after SC/ST candidates would regain their seniority over general candidates, promoted earlier.


2000: Article 16(4B) & Carry Forward Rule – 81st Amendment

Two amendments were brought in 2000 for seamless facilitation of reservation in promotion for SC/STs. The first was the 81st Amendment.

Through 81st Amendment, the government introduced Article 16(4B), which allowed reservation in promotion to breach the 50% ceiling set on regular reservations. The Amendment allowed the State to carry forward unfilled vacancies from previous years. This came to be known as the Carry Forward Rule.

Article 16(4B) read in relevant parts  – “[The State may consider] any unfilled vacancies of a year which are reserved for being filled up in that year… as a separate class of vacancies to be filled up in any succeeding year or years and such class of vacancies shall not be considered together with the vacancies of the year in which they are being filled up for determining the ceiling of fifty per cent reservation on total number of vacancies of that year.”


In 2000, the State amended the Constitution a second time. In the 82nd Amendment, the State added a proviso to Article 335. According to Article 335, the claims of SCs/STs to services and posts have to be consistent with overall administrative efficiency.

In a way, the 82nd Amendment eviscerated the efficiency requirement. It introduced a proviso which held that nothing in Article 335 would prevent the State from relaxing the qualifying marks or lowering the standard of evaluation for reservation in matters of promotion to members of SC and STs.

The proviso to Article 335 undid the Supreme Court’s 1996 judgement in Vinod Kumar, which specifically ruled against relaxations in qualifying marks in matters of reservation in promotion.


2001: Article 16(4A) & Consequential Seniority for SC/STs – 85th Amendment

In 2001, Parliament negated the Catch-Up Rule that the Court had introduced in Virpal Singh(1995) and Ajit Singh(1996). In the 85th Amendment, Parliament amended Article 16(4A) and introduced the principle of Consequential Seniority to promoted SC/ST candidates.

Subsequently, the text of Article 16 (4A) was amended such that “in matters of promotion to any class” became “in matters of promotion, with consequential seniority to any class.”


2006: Nagaraj v UOI