A Full Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court has held that sports category reservation is traceable to Article 16(1) of the Constitution of India.
The Court also held that Article 16(4) of the Constitution is not exhaustive of all forms of reservation.
The bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan, Justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and Alok Singh was constituted to answer a reference on the issue "whether Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India is exhaustive of all forms of reservation, or whether reservation for the sports category can be provided under Article 16(1) of the Constitution?"
A Division Bench had quashed a government order granting sports category reservation on the reasoning that reservation can be provided only for backward classes mentioned under Article 16(4), 16(4A) and 16(4B).
When another bench doubted this proposition, the issue was referred to the Full Bench.
The judgment authored by Chief Justice Ranganathan held :
"We answer the reference holding that, in view of the law declared by the Supreme Court, in Indra Sawhney and N.M. Thomas, the opinion of the Division Bench, in Special Appeal No.162 of 2013 dated 14.08.2013, that Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India is exhaustive of all forms of reservation, is not good law; and reservation in favour of categories, other than those in whose favour reservation is provided under Articles 16(4), (4A) and (4B), can be extended under Article 16(1), provided such reservation satisfies the test of a valid and reasonable classification."
The bench referred to the SC decisions in N M Thomas and Indira Sawhney cases to arrive at its conclusions. It observed that Article 16(1) also provides for reasonable classification on the basis of the object and the purpose of the law or State action. The principle of equality means that unequals can be treated unequally. Article 16(4) is not an exception to Article 16(1), but is merely an emphatic way of stating a principle implicit in Article 16(1), observed the court.
"Clause (4) of Article 16, an instance of classification implicit in and permitted by Clause (1), is a provision which must be read along with, and in harmony with, Clause (1). Even without Clause (4), it would have been permissible for the State to have evolved such a classification, and made a provision for reservation of appointment/posts in favour of the backward classes. Clause (4) merely puts the matter beyond doubt in specific terms".
"Article 16(4) is exhaustive of the subject of reservation in favour of the backward classes, though it may not be exhaustive of the very concept of reservation. Reservations for other classes can be provided under Clause (1) of Article 16. Merely because one form of classification is stated as a specific clause, it does not follow that the very concept and power of classification implicit in Clause (1) is exhausted thereby."
The Full Bench observed that the Division Bench had not taken note of the decisions in N M Thomas & Indira Sawhney cases.
"The opinion of the Division Bench, in Special Appeal No. 162 of 2013 dated 14.08.2013, that Article 16(4) is exhaustive of all forms of reservation, and that no reservation can be provided under Article 16(1), runs contrary to law declared by the Supreme Court in N.M. Thomas and Indira Sawhney , and is, therefore, overruled. We are in agreement with the view expressed in the referral order [order in Writ Petition (S/B) No.45 of 2014 dated 07.07.2015] that the power to make reservation, in favour of sportsmen, is traceable to Article 16(1) of the Constitution of India, subject, of course, that the exercise of power, to provide such reservation, satisfies the twin tests of a valid classification", the Court said in conclusion.
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