SCO Shorts: SC/ST Reservations in Promotion

On January 31st the Supreme Court clarified the criteria for States to provide reservations in promotions.

On September 26th 2018 the SC delivered a Judgment providing the necessary conditions for States to satisfy in order to provide reservations in promotions to SC/ST communities. However, many States sought clarifications from the SC on the implementation of this decision. On January 31st 2022 a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai and Sanjiv Khanna delivered a Judgment clarifying the criteria for determining reservations in promotions in the case of Jarnail Singh v Lacchmi Narain Gupta (2022).

Journey at the SC

In 2006, in the case of M. Nagaraj v Union of India, the SC laid down three conditions that States must satisfy in order to grant reservations in promotions to SC/ST communities. First, the State must demonstrate the backwardness of the class for whom reservations were being provided. Second, they must show that the class is inadequately represented in the service where reservations were to be provided. Lastly, they must show that administrative efficiency would be maintained even with the reservations provided.

The State of Tripura had similar policies in the Tripura Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Vacancies in Services and Posts) Act, 1991. In 2011, a petition was filed challenging the Act, based on M. Nagaraj. In 2015 the Tripura High Court struck down the policies stating that the Nagraj conditions were not met.

The State of Tripura appealed this decision at the SC, requesting that the decision from Nagaraj be revisited. In 2018, the Court refused to do so, but struck down the requirement to demonstrate backwardness. Instead, it mandated that states follow the ‘creamy layer’ principle. This was to ensure that those benefiting from reservations were not socially and economically forward in comparison to the rest of the people in their community.

Many states, like Bihar, have found it difficult to implement and satisfy the conditions laid down by the Court—their policies have been struck down by High Courts across the country. State governments appealed the decisions and sought clarifications on how to implement the Court’s 2018 Judgment. While the Court refused to reconsider Jarnail Singh, it agreed to hear arguments on whether clarifications were necessary.

What were the Clarifications Sought?

States requested the SC to clarify two major points from the Judgment in Jarnail Singh.

    1. What is the necessary data to be collected and the criteria for determining inadequate representation of a class?
    2. What does it mean to maintain administrative efficiency and how can it be guaranteed?

What did the Court Hold?

The Court held that States themselves were responsible for determining the criteria for inadequacy of representation as they would be better placed to account for local conditions. The Court specifed the unit for collecting data as the ‘cadre’. This refers to a grade or category of posts in the entire service. Data must be collected according to these cadres and not the entire service.

The Court further held that the data collected must be reviewed periodically, and that this period was left for the States to decide.

What Next?

Before the Court began its summer vacation on May 23rd 2022, the SC was deciding how to hear the appeals on the large number reservation policies that had been struck down by the High Courts. The Court is scheduled to resume regular hearings on July 11th.

The senior-most Judge on the Bench, Justice L.N. Rao retired during the vacation on June 7th. A new Bench will have to be constituted to hear the States’ appeals. Further, as the Court left it to the States to determine the criteria for inadequate representation, it remains to be seen whether High Court’s will be more amenable to reservation policies or if the requirements will continue to be murky.

Dig Deeper

  1. The SC Emphasises Data in Reservation Cases
  2. Reservation in Promotion: Court in Review
  3. Reservation in Promotion – Case Page
  4. SCO Explains: Discussing Data in Reservation Policies with Dr. Anup Surendranath