SCO Shorts: Tamil Nadu Vanniyar Reservations Judgment

Internal reservations for Vanniyars will be discontinued until the Tamil Nadu government finds reliable data to justify them. 

On March 31st 2022, Justices Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai of the Supreme Court declared Tamil Nadu’s 2021 Act unconstitutional. The Act provided 10.5% internal reservations for Vanniyars within the 20% quota for Most Backward Classes (MBC) in public education and employment. The Court agreed with the Madras High Court’s opinion that reservations for Vanniyars were not based on reliable and contemporary data. 

Why it Matters

Vanniyar reservations are a key electoral issue in Tamil Nadu, with governments attempting to implement them in the run up to Assembly elections over the years. The Judgment may address the complaints of other MBC groups, who argue that internal reservations for Vanniyars are discriminatory, as they are a relatively socially, politically, and economically advanced caste.  

The Judgment further demonstrates the Supreme Court’s continued emphasis on ensuring that reservation policies are based on reliable and contemporary data.  

The Challenge:

The petitioners, many of whom belonged to other MBC groups, challenged the 2021 Act on the following grounds:

  What did the Court say?

  • The Tamil Nadu government did not lack legislative competence to provide internal reservations. The 102nd Amendment (2018) took away States’ power to include new groups within reserved categories. Internal reservation, however, reallocates reserved seats within predetermined groups. 
  • Sub-classification within MBCs is permissible as long as the classification is based on reliable data proving relative backwardness and underrepresentation. Caste  identity can be the starting point for providing reservation, but it cannot be the sole basis
  • The 2021 Act granting 10.5% Vanniyar reservation was prepared hastily and on the basis of antiquated data from the 1980s. 

What Next? 

Members of  the Vanniyar community blame present and past Tamil Nadu governments for failing to collect timely data proving the need for internal reservations. S. Ramadoss, Pattali Makkal Katchi leader and prominent advocate for Vanniyar Reservations, remains hopeful that the State Backward Castes Commission will soon collect the data required to provide the need for internal reservations for Vanniyars. 

The Bottom Line:

Internal reservations for Vanniyars will be discontinued until the Tamil Nadu government finds reliable data to justify them. 

Dig deeper:

  1. SCO Explains: Dr. Anup Surendranath Sets Out Foundational Questions that SC Must Answer for Clarity on Reservation Policies
  2. Supreme Court Emphasises Data in Reservation Cases