Reservations: A curse or privilege

Authored by - Ms. Drishti Gupta and Mr. Ujjawal Aggarwal

Designation - Student(s), UILS, PU

Dr. BR Ambedkar once quoted, “I came into the Constituent Assembly with no greater aspiration than to safeguard the interests of Scheduled Caste”. He was popularly known as Babasaheb, was the one to envisage the idea of reservation while drafting the Constitution of India as a step to provide the opportunity of social and economic advancement to the lowest stratum of the society, the Dalits. Reservation in simple terms refers to an act of reserving, withholding or keeping back. The basis of providing reservation is giving proportionate opportunities to the people of Scheduled Castes, Schedule Tribes and other backward classes. The reservation is intended to aggrandize the social diversity in campuses and workplaces. The Hindu social order is regulated by the principle of graded inequality and this principle governed the laws of slavery, marriage, punishment, sanskars and sanyas. Hence a unique plan was of reservation system was incorporated in the Constitution with the aim of to affect the protective discrimination in favour of the underprivileged classes and as per this plan one of the important objectives mentioned in the Preamble of the Constitution is ‘social justice’.

The Court is expected to interpret law in such a way that these avowed objectives could be made a reality. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer emphasizes this aspect of Judicial Activism when he says:

A pragmatic approach to social justice compels us to interpret constitutional provision liberally with a view to see that effective policing of the corridors of power is carried out by the court until other Ombudsman arrangements are made. Court’s function, of course, is limited to testing whether administrative action has been fair and free from the taint unreasonableness and has substantially complied with the procedural norms set for it by the rules of public administration and that the action of the administration is not mala fide.”

The Fundamental Rights as provided in the Constitution of India are far more elaborate and comprehensive than in the Bill of Rights in any other Constitution. Some of which guaranty equality before the law and equal protection of law (Article 14), prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion, race and caste, sex & birth place (Article 15), equal opportunity in matters of public employment (Article16), abolition of untouchability (Article 17), prohibition of discrimination in matters of admission into educational institutions on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them (Article 29(2)).

Reservation in our Country is known as ‘Quota’ system. In Indian law it is a form of affirmative action wherein a fixed percentage of seats is reserved in the public sector units, union and state civil services, government departments and in regards to admissions in all public and private educational institutions, except in the religious or linguistic minority edu­cational institutions, for the socially and educationally backward communities who are inadequately represented in these services and institutions. This reserva­tion policy is also extended for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for representation in the Parliament of India. Thus, reservation is mainly in the area of admissions in educational institutions, employment in government services and seats in the legislature. Lot of verdicts of our Indian Judiciary as to reservations has been modified subsequently by our parliament through Constitutional Amendments Acts. However, some rulings of our Courts have been scoffed by State and Central Governments. Some Judgments upheld the reservations and some rulings for fine turning its implementation regarding reservations. The issue of reservation has been dealt with extensively by the judiciary of our country, and it has time and again tried to draw a consonance between the provisions of the constitution as well as the specific policy regulations related to reservation. The cases which have come across the Honorable Supreme Court generally deal with the questions as:

1. Whether caste is the sole criteria for determining the backwardness of an individual?

2. Whether Article 15(4), 16(4) 16(4) (A), 335, are in consonance or are contradictory?

3. If Class and Caste can be used interchangeably?

4. What is the set standard for determining the social and educational backwardness of a class?

5. Whether right to promotion in employment has been provided as a right to the depressed classes and if it has been provided, then whether it is constitutionally valid or not?

We know that the minorities need reservation for their adequate representation in society, but are not aware about that up to what extent this reservation is needed. In absence of any specific limits on the extent of reservation under the Constitution, various Governments taking this as an advantageous opportunity for garnering their vote banks, have been resorting to implement reservation in educational institutions and governmental jobs to the maximum possible extents.

In Indra Sawhney - v. - Union of India, the Honorable Supreme Court observed that Article 16(4) asserts about adequate representation and not proportionate representation. Proportional representation and adequate representation cannot be read as the same thing. Principle of proportionate representation is accepted only in Articles 330 and 332 of the Constitution and that too for a limited period. Palkiwala opposed the implementation of Mandal Commission’s recommendation of reserving 27 per cent seats for backward classes stating the reason as this would violate the basic structure of Constitution. But his contention did not hold value for a long time as the full bench of Supreme Court approved the Mandal Commission’s report.

The concept of reservation has been a cause of disagreement between the reserved and the non- reserved sections of the society. While the unreserved segments, keep on raising voices against the provision, the neediest sections from within the reserved segments are hardly aware about how to get benefited from the provision or even whether there are such provisions.

On the contrary, the creamy layer among the same areas is enjoying special privileges in the name of reservation and political factions are supporting them for vote banks. Reservation is no doubt good, as far as it is a method of appropriate positive discrimination for the benefit of the downtrodden and economically backward Sections of the society but when it tends to harm the society and ensures privileges for some at the cost of others for narrow political ends, as it is in the present form, it should be done away with, as soon possible.

Reservations can never be completely eliminated from the society because if someone is getting undue benefits from it, they are people too who are genuinely getting benefits from it. So, reservation is privilege for those who are getting benefits from it but is surely a curse for those who are denied with opportunities which can only be countered if the government keep a complete check on its policies.


1. Constituent Assembly Debates, 26 August 1949, Vol. 9, p. 702).

2. D K Bhatt, PC Joshi, Social Justice and Reservation for OBCs: An Analysis of Judicial Response, 27(2), 2000 IBR, p. 116.

3. K. Srinivasan & Sanjay Kumar, ‘Economic and Caste Criteria in Definition of Backwardness’, EPW October 16-23, 1999.

4. Parmanand Singh, Fundamental Right to Reservation A Re–joinder, (1995) 3 SCC p. 6-12.

5. S.M.N Raina, Reservation with Justice, III. 1990 CILQ p. 1.

6. VP Bharatiya. Egalitarian Differentiation for Job Reservation, 33 JILI (1991)

240 views0 comments