Reservation System in India

In layman’s language, Reservation can be understood as reserving some seats in jobs and admission in Educational Institutions for the socially and educationally downtrodden section of the society. Going back to the Historical context of the country, caste system and untouchability was practiced on a large scale. This led to deterioration and a particular section of the society lacked behind in some spheres of life.


Considering a simple example, two people equally fit are to be prepared for a race. One of them has been given good training and the other one has been locked in a room. Now if both are made to start the race from one point, it is obvious that the former will win. In a country like India which has Common Law and Equitable Courts, it is necessary to bring equity in the situation, there the concept of Reservation came into picture.

Reservation System in India


The sources of Reservation can be traced from Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which means Equality before Law and Equal Protection of Law.

Widening the sphere of this Article, laws can be changed or made different for a particular section of the society i.e. reasonable classification is permitted under the Article. To come within the preview of this, there needs to be intelligible differentia in the issue to differentiate a particular class of people from others.


In the case of Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (AIR 1993 SC 477) also commonly referred to as the Mandal Commission Case– In this case, the Nine-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court enumerated the essential points pertaining to reservation in Government employment under Article 16(4) of the Constitution.

M. Nagaraj v. Union of India (2006) 8 SCC 212
Some key observations that were made by Five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in context of “extent of reservation” are as under:
• That the ceiling-limit of 50%, the concept of creamy layer and the compelling reasons, namely, backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency are all constitutional requirements without which the structure of equality of opportunity in Article 16 would collapse.
• That with respect to the “extent of reservation” the concerned State will have to show in each case the existence of the compelling reasons, namely, backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency before making provision for reservation. As stated above, the impugned provision is an enabling provision. The State is not bound to make reservation for SC/ST in matter of promotions. However if they wish to exercise their discretion and make such provision, the State has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment in addition to compliance of Article 335.
• That even if the State has compelling reasons, as stated above, the State will have to see that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness so as to breach the ceiling-limit of 50% or obliterate the creamy layer or extend the reservation indefinitely.

Reservation System in India

Subject to above, the Bench upheld the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Seventy-Seventh Amendment) Act, 1995, the Constitution (Eighty-First Amendment) Act, 2000, the Constitution (Eighty-Second Amendment) Act, 2000 and the Constitution (Eighty-Fifth Amendment) Act, 2001.

In Devadasan case, the Supreme Court was required to adjudge the validity of the carry forward rule. The carry forward rule envisaged that in a year, 17½ per cent posts were to be reserved for Scheduled Castes/Tribes; if all the reserved posts were not filled in a year for want of suitable candidates from those classes, then the shortfall was to be carried forward to the next year and added to the reserved quota for that year, and this could be done for the next two years. The result of the rule was that in a year out of 45 vacancies in the cadre of section officers, 29 went to the reserved quota and only 16 posts were left for others. This meant reservation upto 65% in the third year, and while candidates with low marks from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were appointed, candidates with higher marks from other classes were not taken.

In State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas, the Supreme Court held that it was permissible to give preferential treatment to Scheduled Castes/Tribes under Art. 16(1) outside Art. 16(4). The Court observed: Art. 16(4) is not in the nature of an exception of Art. 16(1). It is a facet of Art. 16(1) which fosters and furthers the idea of equality of opportunity with special reference to an under privileged and deprived class of citizens. Thus, Art. 16(1) being a facet of the doctrine of equality enshrined in Art. 14 permits reasonable classification just as Art. 14 does. The majority ruled that Art. 16(4) is not an exception to Art. 16(1). Art. 16(1) it permits reasonable classification for attaining equality of opportunity assured by it.

In Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court has assessed the validity of unrealistically high levels of income or holdings of other conditions prescribed by the Legislatures of UP and Bihar as criteria to identify the creamy layer. The Supreme Court has quashed these conditions as discriminatory. The Court has ruled that these conditions laid down by the two States have no ‘nexus’ with the object sought to be achieved. The criterion laid down by the two States to identify the creamy layer are violative of Art. 16(4), wholly arbitrary, violative or Art. 14, and against the law laid down by the Supreme Court in the Mandal case, where the Court has expressed the view that a member of the All India Service without anything more ought to be regarded as belonging to the “creamy layer”.


  1. Reservation is a good move and beneficial for the country, however the grounds on which reservation is given must be reviewed. Reservation is just and fair only when it is given on Economic Grounds. Moreover, The concept of Reservation being an Affirmative Action can only be successful if the grounds are economic grounds.
  2. The concept of Creamy Layer, as it applied in the case of Other backward Classes be also applied in Caste Based Reservation.
  3. The machinery shall be administered more properly and fairly to be able to reach those who need it and stop its abuse.