Pronouncement of Judgment: Tamil Nadu’s 10.5% Reservation For Vanniyars Unconstitutional

Tamil Nadu’s Vanniyar Reservation

On March 31st 2022, Justices Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai upheld the Madras High Court’s decision that the Tamil Nadu Government’s 2021 Act was unconstitutional. The Act provided Vanniyars with 10.5% internal reservation within the 20% seats reserved for Most Backward Classes (MBC) in public education and employment. 

The Court reasoned that the Tamil Nadu Government did not have adequate data to prove that Vanniyars are more backward than other MBC groups, so much so that they require  further reservations. The Court found that the State Government is competent to demarcate internal reservations for one MBC group within the larger MBC quota. However, it argued that caste can only be the starting point for such reservations—the Government must then use contemporary and reliable data to prove that the MBC group in question is relatively more socially and economically backward than other MBC groups. 

This Judgment is the latest among a long list of decisions in which the Supreme Court has emphasised the need for reliable data to grid reservation policies. 

Tamil Nadu Government Did Not Lack Legislative Competence to Grant Internal Reservations

The 2021 Act granting Vanniyars internal reservation was passed in between two crucial legislations. The first was the Constitution 102nd Amendment Act, 2018 (which was interpreted as taking away State Governments’ power to recognise backward classes for reservations) and the second was the Constitution 105th Amendment Act, 2021 (which restored State Governments’ power). Given this unfortunate timing, the Tamil Nadu government’s competence to recognise Vanniyars for reservations was challenged before the SC by other MBC groups. 

The Bench held that State Governments did indeed lack the power to recognise new backward classes for reservation between the 2018 and 2021 constitutional amendments. However, the Tamil Nadu Government was merely reconfiguring the distribution of reserved seats between classes that had already been recognised as backward in 1994. The Court ruled that Tamil Nadu government was competent to provide Vanniyars internal reservations. 

Data To Show Relative Backwardness Missing, Caste Cannot be Sole Basis for Internal Reservation

Between 1960 to 1985, two Backward Classes Commissions respectively headed by civil servants A.N. Sattanathan and J.A. Ambasankar held that certain communities within Tamil Nadu’s MBC groups were not receiving adequate reservation benefits. Based on the findings of these committees, the Chairman of the State Backward Classes Commission, Justice M. Thanikachalam recommended the 10.5% reservation policy for Vanniyars to ensure that they are not marginalised within reservation schemes. The Tamil Nadu Government’s policy is based on this justification

The Bench held that the data relied on for the Vanniyars’ internal reservation was outdated. The reservation policy was based solely on the population of the Vanniyars, and did not factor in their socio-economic backwardness. This went against the Supreme Court’s decision in Indra Sawhney, while also violating Articles 14 and 16