An Analysis of the Supreme Court of India’s Decision in Saurav Yadav v. State of Uttar Pradesh on Reservation

Reservation is one of the debatable realities of Indian constitution. This system got its roots from the exploitations due to the age-old caste system practiced in India. According to the caste system, the society of India is divided into some Varnas, depending upon their occupation. Those Varnas were Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras. The latter was considered as the lower caste among all of the former three mentioned. Later this division gave birth prejudice and walls among the different categories of the societies. 

People belonging to the upper caste exploited the lower castes. The lower castes were not allowed to enter the areas, houses, temples for the people of upper caste and were considered as the untouchables. After independence, it was the prime task to prevent the exploitation and provide economic stability to the lower castes of the society. Hence, the system of reservation came into existence. Although the system was set up initially only for the 10 years after independence to upgrade the livelihoods of socially underprivileged sections of the society. But even after the 73 years of independence this reservation system still prevails in the country.

Reservation System in India

The Constitution of India states in Article 15(4): “Nothing in Article 15 or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens of or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.” 

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When we talk about the reservation, the initial beneficiaries of the reservation system were Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Other Backward Castes joined the clan later in 1987, after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. The list of OBC is quite subjective to change depending upon the different states. 

Unlike the SCs, OBCs do not have to be compulsorily Hindu, some states include Muslim and Christian communities under this category. All the other remaining groups of castes who are not a member of SCs, STs and OBCs, fall under the General Category, also known as Other category or caste. These are the higher castes who are not benefited from the reservations. In India the reservation is provided in two forms i.e. vertical reservation and horizontal reservation. The vertical reservation is basically the social reservation. It is meant to preserve the seats for the caste like SC, ST and OBC whereas the horizontal reservation is considered as special reservation. It provides the reservation of seats to female, physically challenged or differently abled person, ex-serviceman, army personnel etc.  

An Introduction to the Case of Saurav Yadav v. State of Uttar Pradesh 

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The topic of reservation has been quite dynamic in India. It went through a lot of changes as the judgements were passed in the subsequent cases in the country. Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution of India enable vertical reservation for SC, ST, OBC and as we discussed earlier, one more class of reservations that cuts across these categories is the horizontal reservation. It provides the reservation to women, differently-abled persons, freedom fighters, army veterans and other categories. There is no doubt that it is complicated and complex to understand the relationship between the vertical and horizontal reservation. Well, this particular Saurav Yadav v. State of Uttar Pradesh case was not about the relationship and its complexity. But it was somehow an illustration of some irrationalities of our system. This case came up with an interesting portrait of our sociology.

The 3295 vacancies for the post of police constable were occupied by the General Category in Uttar Pradesh, out of which 188 were females. The last female candidate selected under the General Category scored 274.8298 marks. But 21 female candidates of OBC Category scored more than 274.8298 and still they were not selected for the post as they can’t compete for the seats under the General Quota or in simple language the seats that are not reserved for any category. Even after scoring more than the last selected female candidate of General Category, the 21 candidates of the OBC Category were excluded from the competition for General seats or Open category seats just because they belonged to the reserved category. 

The High Court of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh stated that when it comes to the adjustment of horizontal reservation, a reserved category candidate could only apply under their own category and not for the unreserved seats even after qualifying the merit list for the unreserved seats. Well, this notion was totally absurd. On the contrary to the mentioned judgement, the High Court of states like Rajasthan, Gujrat, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand stated that the candidates of the reserved categories can be selected under the unreserved category if they qualify the merit list and their selection will not be counted under their reserved category. 

The Judgement

The Apex Court made a judgement on Saurav Yadav versus State of Uttar Pradesh against the notion of UP and MP government. The three-judge benched (Justice U.U. Lalit, Justice S.R. Bhat, Justice Hrishikesh Roy) judgement led by Justice Lalit also clarifies the intersection between the Vertical (social) and Horizontal (special) reservations. It directed that all candidates who scored more than 274.8928 marks must be offered employment as Constables in Uttar Pradesh Police. However, the employment of other General Category females with the cut off marks will not be affected in any manner. 

The judgement authored by Justice Lalit stated that the groups considered under the reserved categories cannot be excluded from the available seats for the open category or general category, just because they belong to the reserved category. If they qualify the merit they can be appointed under the open category. The opportunities to the public employment and selection of candidates must be purely based on merit, be it under the social or special reservation. The women of all the categories are entitled to be considered under the open category or general category. The Supreme Court, opposing the judgement of Uttar Pradesh government said that while excluding the reserved category women under the open category seats, the UP government is itself reserving the open category seats for the candidates of unreserved category. Now, the apex court has ended this absurdity.

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Justice Bhat made a concurring judgement stating that there is no rule or direction that prohibits the migration of reserved category women in the open category. Therefore, the open category is not a quota, but available to all women and men alike. The horizontal reservations are not carved on the stones and they are premised on their overlaps. They are actually the interlocking reservations.   

Analysis of the Decision

The relationship between the merit and reservation has been quite controversial, just like the matter and issues related to the reservation had been. In popular vocabularies, the reservation is considered as an antithesis of merit. But this is not the complete truth. Originally the system of reservation was introduced to recognize the potential and merit in the socially vulnerable, marginalized and under- privileged sections of the country. It is a tool to uplift their life standards by identifying their merit. If the Supreme Court would support the judgement of Uttar Pradesh government, it would be promoting communal reservation. 

Those who oppose reservations believe that merit of the General Category is sidelined in the matter of reservations and that’s why the efficiency is compromised in the public sector. Therefore, the critics of the reservation would promote the open quota seats for the unreserved candidates only but ultimately the seats under the open category that are not open for the reserved candidates would ultimately be reserved for the General Category. It would make the General Category a beneficiary sidelining the more meritorious candidate of reserved categories. Hence, it was against the constitution and it needed to be mended. 

In sum, the apex court of our country wants fairness in the criteria of selection within the overall framework of reservation. Overall, the reservation and related matters has always been a topic of unending debates.


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