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Positive Discrimination

Affirmative Action



Reservation in India is a government policy, backed by the Indian Constitution

Government Educational Institutions  – as per Article 15 – (4), (5), and (6).

Government Jobs – as per Article 16 – (4) and (6).


Legislatures – as per Article 334.




History of Reservation System in India

1. The caste system is one of the unique features of Indian Society. Its root can be traced back to thousands of years alienated many “lower castes” from the mainstream – hindering their development.

2. Originally, the Consitution of India provided reservation only for quota in legislatures for 10 years until 1960 (Article 334). Subsequent amendments extended this period.

3. The initial reservations were only for SC and ST [Article 15(4) and Article 16(4)]. OBCs were included in 1991 [Article 15(5)]. In 2019, Economically Weaker Sections are also included [Article 15(6) and Article 16(6)].


Brief of Evolution of the Concept of Reservation 


1992 - Indira Sawhney Case 

  • 9-Judge Bench 
  • Creamy Layer Concept for OBC & not SC/ST.
  • Article 16(4) does not allow for reservation in promotion. 


1995 - 77th Constitutional Amendment 

  • Article 16(4A) inserted i.e. Reservation in Promotion 
  • nullified the effect of Indra Sawhney 


1996 - Catch Up Rule 

  • Virpal Singh (1995) and Ajit Singh (1996) case
  • The rule held that senior general candidates who were promoted after SC/ST candidates would regain their seniority over general candidates, promoted earlier.


1996 - Article 335 of the Constitution

  • S. Vinod Kumar And Anr. vs Union Of India And Ors. 
  • The court held that relaxations in qualifying marks in matters of reservation in promotion was not permissible under Article 16(4) in view of the command contained in Article 335 of the Constitution.  
  • Article 335 states that reservations are subject to the principle of administrative efficiency.


2000 - 81st & 82nd Constitutional Amendment 

  • The government inserted 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.
  • The 82nd Amendment 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. The proviso 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. 


2001 - 85th Constitutional Amendment 

  • Parliament negated the Catch-Up Rule
  • Through the 85th Amendment, Parliament amended Article 16(4A) and introduced the principle of Consequential Seniority to promoted SC/ST candidates.


2006 - M Nagaraj Case

  • The petitioners challenged the 77th, 81st, 82nd, and 85th Amendments & the Court held the following - 
  1. upheld the Amendments as constitutionally valid. 
  2. no automatic right to reservation in promotion for SC/STs.
  3. or reservation in promotion to be valid, the State has to meet three compelling requirements  - Demonstrate the backwardness of the SC/ST, Prove that the SC/ST is inadequately represented in relevant public employment, & Maintain the overall efficiency of administration.


2018 - Challenge to M Nagaraja Case - Jarnail Singh v. Lacchmi Narain Gupta 

  • Wherein the Supreme Court held that the M Nagaraja Judgement does not need reconsideration by a 7-judge bench. 
  • The criteria of further backwardness acknowledged in the M Nagaraja case,  is contrary to the nine-judge Bench decision in Indira Sawhney.
  • It also added that the principle of creamy layer exclusion applies to SC/STs.


2019 - BK Pavitra v. Union of India - II

  • The Supreme Court upheld a 2018 Karnataka Reservation Act
  • The Court introduced a new inclusive definition of administrative efficiency under Article 335 of the Constitution.
  • The new definition balances merit with ensuring adequate representation. 
  • The Court upheld the Act despite the fact that the State had failed to apply the creamy layer test introduced in Jarnail Singh. The Court reasoned that the test can only be applied at the stage of reservation in promotion and not at the stage of consequential seniority.


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