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SC-ST Reservations Are True Fulfillment Of Effective And Substantive Equality, Says Supreme Court [Read Judgment]

Ashok Kini
10 May 2019 8:13 AM GMT
SC-ST Reservations Are True Fulfillment Of Effective And Substantive Equality, Says Supreme Court [Read Judgment]
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“Thus, a ‘meritorious’ candidate is not merely one who is ‘talented ’or ‘successful’ but also one whose appointment fulfils the constitutional goals of uplifting members of the SCs and STs and ensuring a diverse and representative administration.”

In its judgment upholding the 2018 Karnataka Law granting reservation in promotion for staffs belonging to Scheduled-Caste and Scheduled-Tribe communities, the Supreme Court observed SC-ST Reservations are the true fulfilment of effective and substantive equality by accounting for the structural conditions into which people are born. Justice DY Chandrachud, who authored the judgment...

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In its judgment upholding the 2018 Karnataka Law granting reservation in promotion for staffs belonging to Scheduled-Caste and Scheduled-Tribe communities, the Supreme Court observed SC-ST Reservations are the true fulfilment of effective and substantive equality by accounting for the structural conditions into which people are born.

Justice DY Chandrachud, who authored the judgment for the bench also comprising of Justice UU Lalit, observed that there is no antithesis between maintaining the efficiency of administration and considering the claims of the SCs and STs to appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.

Substantive versus formal equality

The bench observed that for equality to be truly effective or substantive, the principle must recognise existing inequalities in society to overcome them.

"Reservations are thus not an exception to the rule of equality of opportunity. They are rather the true fulfilment of effective and substantive equality by accounting for the PART F 107 structural conditions into which people are born. If Article 16(1) merely postulates the principle of formal equality of opportunity, then Article 16(4) (by enabling reservations due to existing inequalities) becomes an exception to the strict rule of formal equality in Article 16 (1). However, if Article 16 (1) itself sets out the principle of substantive equality (including the recognition of existing inequalities) then Article 16 (4) becomes the enunciation of one particular facet of the rule of substantive equality set out in Article 16 (1)."

Efficiency of Administration vs. SC-ST Reservation

The bench addressed the criticism that the only method to ensure 'efficiency' in the administration [a term used in Article 335 of constitution] of government is to use a 'merit' based approach  whereby candidates that fulfil more, seemingly 'neutral' criteria than others are given opportunities in government services.

Article 335 of the Constitution provides that the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State The proviso specifically protects provisions in favour of the SCs and STs for: (i) relaxing qualifying marks in an examination; (ii) lowering the standards of evaluation; or (iii) reservation in matters of promotion.

The court observed that the proviso to Article 335 emphasises that the need to maintain the efficiency of administration cannot be construed as a fetter on adopting these special measures designed to uplift and protect the welfare of the SCs and STs. It said:

"Centuries of discrimination and prejudice suffered by the SCs and STs in a feudal, caste oriented societal structure poses real barriers of access to opportunity. The proviso contains a realistic recognition that unless special measures are adopted for the SCs and STs, the mandate of the Constitution for the consideration of their claim to appointment will remain illusory. The proviso, in other words, is an aid of fostering the real and substantive right to equality to the SCs and STs. It protects the authority of the Union and the States to adopt any of these special measures, to effectuate a realistic (as opposed to a formal) consideration of their claims to appointment in services and posts under the Union and the states. The proviso is not a qualification to the substantive part of Article 335 but it embodies a substantive effort to realise substantive equality."

The court said that, while interpreting Article 335, it is necessary to liberate the concept of efficiency from a one-sided approach which ignores the need for and the positive effects of the inclusion of diverse segments of society on the efficiency of administration of the Union or of a State.

"Establishing the position of the SCs and STs as worthy participants in affairs of governance is intrinsic to an equal citizenship. Equal citizenship recognizes governance which is inclusive but also ensures that those segments of our society which have suffered a history of prejudice, discrimination and oppression have a real voice in governance. Since inclusion is inseparable from a well governed society, there is, in our view, no antithesis between maintaining the efficiency of administration and considering the claims of the SCs and STs to appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State."

'Deep Rooted Social Prejudice'

The court also said that stereotypical assumption that roster point promotees drawn from the SCs and STs are not efficient or that efficiency is reduced by appointing them is a deep rooted social prejudice. The benchmark for the efficiency of administration is not some disembodied, abstract ideal measured by the performance of a qualified open category candidate, the bench said. It added:

"Efficiency of administration in the affairs of the Union or of a State must be defined in an inclusive sense, where diverse segments of society find representation as a true aspiration of governance by and for the people. If, as we hold, the Constitution mandates realisation of substantive equality in the engagement of the fundamental rights with the directive principles, inclusion together with the recognition of the plurality and diversity of the nation constitutes a valid constitutional basis for defining efficiency. Our benchmarks will define our outcomes. If this benchmark of efficiency is grounded in exclusion, it will produce a pattern of governance which is skewed against the marginalised. If this benchmark of efficiency is grounded in equal access, our outcomes will reflect the commitment of the Constitution to produce a just social order. Otherwise, our past will haunt the inability of our society to move away from being deeply unequal to one which is founded on liberty and fraternity."

Providing Reservations For SC-STs Not At Odds With Meritocracy

The court also said that providing of reservations for SCs and the STs is not at odds with the principle of meritocracy. 'Merit' must not be limited to narrow and inflexible criteria such as one's rank in a standardized exam, but rather must flow from the actions a society seeks to reward, including the promotion of equality in society and diversity in public administration, the bench said. It added:

"Thus, a 'meritorious' candidate is not merely one who is 'talented 'or 'successful' but also one whose appointment fulfils the constitutional goals of uplifting members of the SCs and STs and ensuring a diverse and representative administration."

Read Judgment


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