SC upholds Karnataka law on SC/ST quota in govt promotions

New Delhi | Published: May 11, 2019 1:35:57 AM

Striking down the 2002 law in 2017, the Supreme Court said that Sections 3 and 4 of the Act were ultra vires of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution on the ground that the exercise mandated in the Nagaraj judgement had not been carried out.

The Karnataka legislature enacted the 2018 law after the Supreme Court invalidated the 2002 Act in BK Pavitra vs Union of India (B K Pavitra 1).

By Ananthakrishnan G

Underlining that quota for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is “not at odds with the principle of meritocracy”, the Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling on Friday, upheld the constitutional validity of a 2018 Karnataka law granting consequential seniority to government servants promoted on the basis of reservation.

A bench of Justices UU Lalit and DY Chandrachud, while upholding the validity of the Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act, 2018, said it “has cured the deficiency” on account of which a 2002 law on reservation in promotions had been quashed in 2017.

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The “deficiency” referred to was the lack of an exercise to determine and collect quantifiable data on inadequacy of representation, backwardness and the impact on overall efficiency before the law was enacted, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s 2006 judgment in M Nagaraj vs Union of India.

Writing for the bench, Justice Chandrachud said “…the providing of reservation for SCs and 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 standardised 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 2018 law protects consequential seniority from April 24, 1978. The Karnataka legislature enacted the 2018 law after the Supreme Court invalidated the 2002 Act in BK Pavitra vs Union of India (B K Pavitra 1).

Striking down the 2002 law in 2017, the Supreme Court said that Sections 3 and 4 of the Act were ultra vires of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution on the ground that the exercise mandated in the Nagaraj judgement had not been carried out.

In its order on Friday, the bench said: “Following the decision in BK Pavitra I, the State government duly carried out the exercise of collating and analysing data on the compelling factors adverted to by the Constitution Bench in Nagaraj. The Reservation Act 2018 has cured the deficiency which was noticed by BK Pavitra I in respect of the Reservation Act 2002. The Reservation Act 2018 does not amount to a usurpation of judicial power by the state legislature… The Reservation Act 2018 is a valid exercise of the enabling power conferred by Article 16 (4A) of the Constitution.”

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Article 16(4) states: Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.

When Karnataka had enacted the 2018 law, it was again challenged with the petitioners maintaining that the State legislature had virtually re-enacted the 2002 law without curing its defects. The plea contended that it was not open to a legislative body governed by the parameters of a written Constitution to override a judicial decision, without taking away its basis.

The State, on the other hand, asserted that an exercise for collecting quantifiable data was in fact carried out, consistent with the parameters required by the decision in the Nagaraj case. The petitioners questioned both the process and the outcome of the exercise carried out by the state for collecting quantifiable data.

In its landmark 1992 decision in Indra Sawhney vs Union of India, the Supreme Court had held that reservations under Article 16(4) could only be provided at the time of entry into government service but not in matters of promotion. It added that the principle would operate only prospectively and not affect promotions already made and that reservation already provided in promotions shall continue in operation for a period of five years from the date of the judgment. It also ruled that the creamy layer can be and must be excluded.

On June 17, 1995, Parliament, acting in its constituent capacity, adopted the seventy-seventh amendment by which clause (4A) was inserted into Article 16 to enable reservation to be made in promotion for SCs and STs. The validity of the seventy-seventh and eighty-fifth amendments to the Constitution and of the legislation enacted in pursuance of those amendments was challenged before the Supreme Court in the Nagaraj case.

Upholding the validity of Article 16 (4A), the court then said that it is an enabling provision. “The State is not bound to make reservation for the SCs and STs in promotions. But, if it seeks to do so, it must collect quantifiable data on three facets — the backwardness of the class; the inadequacy of the representation of that class in public employment; and the general efficiency of service as mandated by Article 335 would not be affected”.

The court ruled that the constitutional amendments do not abrogate the fundamentals of equality.

Following the Supreme Court decision in B K Pavitra I, the Karnataka government, on March 22, 2017, constituted the Ratna Prabha Committee headed by the state Additional Chief Secretary “to submit a report on the backwardness and inadequacy of representation of SCs and STs in the State Civil Services and the impact of reservation on overall administrative efficiency in the State of Karnataka”.

The Ratna Prabha Committee submitted a report on May 5, 2017 which became the basis of the 2018 state law.

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