In a judgment delivered Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that states are not legally bound to provide quotas to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in government jobs and held that individuals have no fundamental right to claim reservations in promotions.
The court gave the verdict during a case regarding the validity of a 2012 notification by the Uttarakhand government to fill up vacancies in government jobs without giving reservation to the SC/ST communities. The Uttarakhand High Court had struck down the notification and asked the government to provide representation to the specified categories.
A Supreme Court bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta ruled that states are not bound to make reservations, nor is reservation in promotions a fundamental right. The top court said that it cannot order state governments to provide reservations.
"In view of the law laid down by this court, there is no doubt that the state government is not bound to make reservations. There is no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions. No mandamus can be issued by the court directing the state government to provide reservations," the bench said in its order.
The state governments can grant reservation to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes at their own discretion but will have to collect quantifiable data which shows their inadequate representation in public services. The Supreme Court has said that states can grant reservation to certain classes, but "there must be some material on the basis of which the opinion is formed".
The Supreme Court referred to Article 16 and its clauses 4 and 4A while delivering its judgement in the matter. Article 16 in the Constitution of India refers to equality of opportunity in government jobs.
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."
Article 16 (4A), which was introduced in 1995, states: "Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State."
To summarise, the Constitution of India grants state government the power to reserve vacancies for backward sections, and even grant reservation in matters of promotion for posts under it. This can be done if the state believes that the reserved categories are inadequately represented in public services under it.