Equality is one of the foremost objectives of the Indian Constitution. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution talks about equality before the law and equal protection of the law, but the concept of equality in the Indian Constitution is not absolute as there are certainly deprived and suppressed sections in our society, and for the upliftment of them, the Constitution can provide reservation for them by following the concept of “intelligible differentiation.” One such clause in order to achieve equality among citizens, and in order to do so, the Constitution has a number of clauses that ensure that right, is Article 15, which forbids the state from discriminating against its inhabitants solely on the basis of their religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any other of the aforementioned criteria.
However, the idea of the reservation is called into question if the state is not allowed to discriminate against residents based on caste and all citizens must be treated equally. Champakam Dorairajan was one of the first situations in which the reservation was contested. In that case, a directive issued by the State Government of Madras reserving seats for particular communities in the medical and engineering colleges was taken to court on the ground that it was violative of Article 15 of the Indian Constitution by classifying students on the basis of religion, race, and caste. The State defended this policy by stating that it is for the enforcement of Article 46, which is a Directive Principle of State Policy that states that the state shall have to keep in mind the claims of the members of the SC and ST communities in government jobs provided to ensure the efficiency of administration. The Court declared the said act invalid as DPSPs could not override the Fundamental Rights. However, the Constitution (First Amendment) Act of 1951 later changed Article 15 in order to change the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling. With this amendment, a new Clause (4) was added to the aforementioned Article, giving the state the authority to establish any specific provisions for the advancement of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as well as socially and educationally disadvantaged segments of citizens. The clause in question justifies reservations. Article 15(4) is a little perplexing in and of itself because it raises issues like how a “backward class” would be defined. How would the disadvantaged classes be classified? Does this provision have any restrictions on its use? Such issues came up when a reservation order issued by the Mysore government was contested in the case of
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M.R. Balaji and Ors. v. State of Mysore
This case sparked a considerable discussion about reservations, which has been covered in this article.
Facts of the case
The State Government of Mysore issued an ordinance on July 26, 1958, classifying all communities—aside from the Brahmin community—as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which are socially and educationally backward classes. Seventy-five per cent of all seats in educational institutions were set aside for these communities under the aforementioned rule. Following that, a number of other orders with comparable structures but different percentages of reservation were passed in the years that followed. However, all of these orders were contested and overturned. However, the Mysore Government again issued an order in 1962 that replaced all earlier orders relating to the reservation of seats that were issued by the government under Article 15 of the Constitution (4). According to the aforementioned order, the state divided the backward classes into two groups: more backward classes and backward classes. Additionally, it reserved only 32% of the seats for the merit pool while allocating 68% of the seats to socially and educationally disadvantaged sections, scheduled castes, and scheduled tribes in the state engineering and medical colleges. 23 petitioners brought a writ suit under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to the Supreme Court, challenging this ruling of the State of Mysore. Six of these 23 petitioners sought admission to pre-professional medical schools associated with Mysore University or Karnataka University, and the remaining 17 petitioners sought admission to the University of Mysore’s five-year integrated bachelor of engineering programme.
- Whether the contested order was properly made in conformity with Article 15(4) of the Constitution?
- How reasonable was it for the State to divide the underprivileged groups into “backward classes” and “more backward classes”?
- Whether it was appropriate to reserve 68 per cent of the seats?
Contention of petitioners
On behalf of the petitioners, it was argued that the State must establish a commission in accordance with Article 340 before granting any orders based on Article 15 (4). After examining the situation of the Backward classes, the commission’s report shall recommend steps to improve the situation. The President is then tasked with arranging for the aforementioned report to be tabled before both Houses of Parliament together with a memo outlining the actions taken in response. Thus, it was maintained, only the President can make specific arrangements for the advancement of underprivileged classes. Therefore, in the current case, the State lacked the authority to issue the contested order under Article 15(4).
The petitioners further argued that even if the State could create special arrangements in accordance with Article 15(4), it could only be done so through legislation and not by executive order. The petitioners argued that they would have been admitted to the individual colleges to which they had applied if it weren’t for the reservation as stated in the challenged judgement. However, the petitioners claimed that because of reservation, even kids with lower test scores than they did were admitted to the aforementioned colleges but not they themselves ..
The petitioners further argued that the criteria used to identify the socially and educationally underprivileged segments among State citizens was illogical and arbitrary. Furthermore, such a classification of the underprivileged groups is incompatible with Article 15(4) and does not fall under its jurisdiction. On behalf of the petitioners, it was further argued that the scope of reservation required by the contested decision was excessively extravagant and irrational to be supported by Article 15(4) of the Constitution.
The Apex Court rejected the petitioners’ argument that only the President has the authority to issue an order under Article 15(4) of the Constitution, holding that the report and recommendations of the Commission appointed under Article 340 are intended to help the relevant authorities create special provisions for the advancement of the underprivileged classes, but that the commission’s appointment is not necessary in order to take any action under Article 15(4) of the Constitution. The court went on to say that Article 340(1) requires the Commission to provide recommendations for the actions that should be taken by the Union or any state to ameliorate the conditions of backward classes, which plainly means that the Union or any state is expected to the petitioners’ claim that an executive order could not be used to create special provisions under Article 15(4) was rejected by the court as being irrational. According to the Court, Article 15(4) of the Constitution grants the “State” the authority to enact such laws, and Article 12 of the Constitution expressly states that the “State” includes the government as well as each state’s legislature. However, the court determined that the impugned decision was defective for a number of reasons. First, the contested order only used caste to classify the backward groups. Castes and classes are two different concepts that are not synonymous in Article 15(4). The court ruled that while caste is an important consideration, it cannot serve as the only foundation for determining whether a class is backward or not. Instead, other considerations such as poverty, occupation, area of residence, etc. must also be taken into account. Regarding Article 15(4), the backwardness of classes must be both social and educational; it cannot be only one or the other. The court further determined that the subclassification of backward classes made by the contested order into additional backward classes was unjustified and outside the purview of Article 15. (4). In this instance, the state included all castes and communities that had an average student population per thousand that was slightly higher, slightly lower, or very close to the state average. As a result, 90% of the state’s total population was classified as belonging to one of the backward classes. The court ruled that such state criteria were unreasonable and in violation of Article 15(4), and that only such localities could be considered backwards because they were significantly below the national norm. Regarding the level of reservation, the court ruled that it would be against the Constitution to reserve 68 per cent of the seats in technical institutions like engineering and medical schools. The court ruled that while reservations should be made in order to strengthen the weaker groups in society, it should be made sure that qualified and worthy applicants are not prevented from enrolling in higher education institutions. The court noted that the action of the state to disregard the interests of the rest of society in the zeal to promote the welfare of backward classes would be unjustified and outside the bounds of the Constitution if the qualified and competent students were denied admission to higher educational institutions. The court specified a 50 per cent cap on the number of reservations that may be made in accordance with Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution. The actual proportion would depend on the specific facts of each instance, although it was stated that the reservation could not exceed 50%. As a result, the court approved the writ petitions and ordered that a suitable writ be issued in order to prevent the respondent from carrying out the contested order.
Despite being partially overturned by subsequent rulings, the M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore case gave rise to one of the most notable discussions about reservation, in which the Supreme Court provided answers to the most frequently asked questions and interpreted the laws that governments used to provide reservation. In this decision, the court recognised that reservations should primarily be given to the weaker sectors of society in order to uplift them, but it also made it clear that this shouldn’t be done at the expense of the interests of the other sections of society. The state’s authority to offer reservations under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) is intended to advance the educational and economic goals of the weaker sections in order to shield them from social injustice. However, when the state provides unreasonable reservation to weaker sections, it does injustice to the other sections, discarding the whole principle of social equality, which the said provisions were originally introduced for. This case also highlighted the significance of the national interest, which would be compromised if eligible and competent applicants were turned away from institutions of higher education and technical training for the purpose of reservation. The court made an effort to reduce the difficulty of determining whether or not the reservation is reasonable. It made certain recommendations for factors to consider when deciding whether a class is backward or not and stated that caste cannot be used as the exclusive basis for this purpose, as was done in the current situation. Additionally, it was made clear that reservations could not, under any circumstances, surpass 50% because doing so would be unreasonable. However, it was left to be decided how much less than 50% of the reserve had to be in line with the facts and circumstances of the specific case for which it had to be resolved.
Written By- Devyani Semwal
Lovely Professional University