• A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday, in a 3:2 majority decision, upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, which provides 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of society but excludes the “poorest of poor” among Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) from its scope.
  • Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela M. Trivedi and J.B. Pardiwala delivered the majority opinions on the five-judge Bench in an hour-long session.
  • Chief Justice U.U. Lalit, on his last working day, and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat gave the minority view, which Justice Bhat authored.
  • On whether such a reservation on the sole basis of economic criterion violated the Basic Structure of the Constitution, Dinesh Justice Maheshwari took the expansive view that reservation was an “instrument of affirmative action by the state” and should not be confined to the SCs, STs, SEBCs, and the non-creamy layer of the OBCs but also include “any class or sections so disadvantaged as to answer the description of ‘weaker section’”.
  • Justice Trivedi, on her part, noted that “the legislature understands and appreciates the needs of its own people”.
  • The three judges in the majority held that reservation on economic criterion alone did not violate the Basic Structure of the Constitution.

Reservation policy

  • Three judges on the Constitution Bench, in views which formed both the majority and minority opinions, said the policy of reservation in education and employment cannot continue for an indefinite period.
  • Justice Bela M. Trivedi, who was part of the majority judgment, said the reservation policy must have a time span. “At the end of 75 years of our Independence, we need to revisit the system of reservation in the larger interest of the society as a whole, as a step forward towards transformative constitutionalism,” Justice Trivedi said.
  • She pointed out that quota for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the House of the People and in State Legislative Assemblies would cease 80 years from the commencement of the Constitution.
  • The representation of Anglo-Indian communities in Parliament and Assemblies has already stopped by virtue of the 104th Constitutional Amendment from January 25, 2020.
  • “Therefore, a similar time limit, if prescribed, for the special provisions in respect of the reservations and representations provided in Article 15 and Article 16 of the Constitution, it could be a way forward leading to an egalitarian, casteless and classless society,” Justice Trivedi observed.
  • Though not expressly said, Justice Trivedi’s view on stopping quota under Articles 15 and 16 would also encompass EWS reservation.
  • Justice P.B. Pardiwala said “reservation is not an end but a means — a means to secure social and economic justice.
  • Reservation should not be allowed to become a vested interest. Real solution, however, lies in eliminating the causes that have led to the social, educational and economic backwardness of the weaker sections of the community”.
  • He said “long-standing development and the spread of education” had resulted in tapering the gap between the classes to a considerable extent.
  • Large percentages of Backward Class members attain acceptable standards of education and employment. They should be removed from the Backward categories so that attention could be paid toward those genuinely in need of help.
  • “It is very much necessary to take into review the method of identification and the ways of determination of Backward Classes, and also, ascertain whether the criteria adopted or applied for the classification of Backward is relevant for today’s conditions.
  • In his minority view on the Bench, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat reminded Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s observations that reservations should be seen as temporary and exceptional “or else they would eat up the rule of equality”.


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