How it all started?
To understand the issue, attention must be first drawn towards paragraph 5 (1) of Schedule 5 of the Constitution. This allows the Governor of a State to give special directions so that any Act of the Parliament or State legislature would not apply in some areas of the State.
In 1986, using this power, the then Governor of Andhra Pradesh gave an order to appoint only Tribal teachers in some areas of the State. A year later, the Government modified the Order to allow teachers of other Categories to hold posts until the Tribal teachers are ready to hold such posts.
In 1993, teachers of other Categories whose services were terminated in order to accommodate Tribal teachers challenged the Order in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, but the Court moved in favour of the State. The matter was in appeal in front of the Supreme Court, but in 1998, the appeal was withdrawn.
Yet again, in the year 2000, the State Government implemented the policy of 100% tribal reservations for teachers in some scheduled areas, which once again came in front of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. The Question of Law was whether the breaking of the 50% ceiling in reservations, which was laid down by a nine-judge bench of the Apex Court in the Indra Sawhney judgment was justified.
Like the previous time, the Andhra Pradesh High Court again ruled in favour of the State. They held that the 50% ceiling laid down in the Indra Sawhney judgment is not absolute in nature, and that ceiling can be broken in some exceptional circumstances. They took notice of the fact that there was a severe lack of tribal teachers in some areas of the State, which justified the appointment of only Tribal teachers in such areas where it is required.
The matter subsequently came in front of the Supreme Court of India in an appeal.
The Logic behind the Supreme Court’s Decision
A Five-Judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising of Justice Arun Mishra, Indira Banarjee, Vineet Saran, M.R. Shah, and Aniruddha Bose held that the Order by the State Government which allowed the practice of only appointing Tribal teachers in some Scheduled Areas of the State is arbitrary and violative of the Art. 14 of the Constitution.
The Apex Court held that the State of Andhra Pradesh was wrong to act and provide reservations in such a manner. The Order clearly violated the rule laid down in the Indra Sawhney judgment that the upper ceiling of 50% in providing reservations cannot be violated except in some exceptional and special circumstances where it is imperative to do so. In the current case, there was no rhyme or reason with the State Government to resort to 100% reservations.
Appointment Orders of Teacher will not be set aside
Though the Apex Court said that they should set aside those appointment orders which breached the 50% ceiling as a consequence of the Order itself being unconstitutional, still they would not do so as the persons who were appointed are not at fault.
The Supreme Court also showed displeasure in the activities of the Andhra Pradesh Government in deciding to bring back the Order of 100% Reservation again in 2000.
The appellant in this current matter argued that the 100% reservation does not only violate the Article 16 of The Constitution, but is also discriminatory to those who are not in the particular reserved category, but as well as to those from any other reserved category.
The Supreme Court observed that though the breach of the ceiling of the 50% quota can be excused in certain exceptional circumstances, in the current scenario, no such circumstances were there. The decision to implement the 100% reservation policy was taken after considering the lack of tribal teachers in the State but was not backed by any proper verifiable data. Further, the ST population of the State is approximately 6% percent, and even in the scheduled areas, where the reservation was being implemented, consisted of a mixed population with a significant representation of other categories of people. As those other categories are not covered under the shadow of that reservation policy, it would be discriminatory towards them without any doubt.
“The 100% reservation would amount to unreasonable and unfair and cannot be termed except as unfair and unreasonable. Thus, we are of the considered opinion that providing 100% reservation to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes were not permissible. The Governor, in the exercise of the power conferred by Para 5(1) of the fifth schedule of the Constitution, cannot provide a 100% reservation” the bench observed in the course of the proceedings.”
The Constitutional Bench observed that appointing only tribal teachers in educational institutes in those scheduled areas would significantly weaken the educational system and infrastructure of those areas. The standard of educations provided in those institutes would severely be hampered, which is totally unacceptable.
“It is an obnoxious idea that tribals only should teach the tribals”
~ The Constitutional Bench
The Indra Sawhney Judgment
One of the most landmark judgments in the arena of reservation policy is the famous judgment of Indra Sawhney & Others v. Union of India and Others. Her challenge to the reservation policy of the then Narasimha Rao Government ultimately led to the Supreme Court imposing a 50% cap on the caste-based reservation. That ceiling was laid down in order to establish an equilibrium, through which backward classes will get the benefit of the reservation without taking away the right of people not entitled to reservation.
That ceiling of 50% has a large say in the implementation of the reservation policies in India. Earlier, Jat reservation in Haryana has been scrapped by the Supreme Court, reservations for Patel/Patidar also has been struck down by the Gujarat High Court because those reservations violated the 50% ceiling. Further, the Maratha reservation in Maharashtra and 10% economically weaker section reservation is pending currently in front of the Apex Court for further scrutiny.
No doubt, the Sawhney Judgment will keep on shaping and influencing the course of reservation policies in India.
Could Unlimited Reservations ever be Justified?
In the current case, there is absolutely no doubt that the Apex Court was right to strike down the 100% reservation policy of the Andhra Pradesh Government.
The State Government, in this case, tried to defend their policy on the ground that there was a severe lack of tribal teachers in those scheduled areas. However, does that justify breaching the 50% ceiling? No doubt that the ceiling can be broken in some special circumstances, but sadly, the lack of tribal teachers cannot be accepted as a special circumstance. The appropriate way to deal with such a problem is to giving better infrastructure to those tribals rather than providing them with unreasonable free reservations.
No doubt that the backward classes in India have suffered a lot from a very long time. Reservation is absolutely necessary for them to bridge the gap which still exists due to the treatment which was handed out to them in the past. Nevertheless, that reservation cannot be unreasonable. If it is unreasonable, it becomes arbitrary, and then it violates the equality clause under Article 14 of the Constitution. Reservation, if provided in a fair manner, can uplift a million, but if implemented in an unreasonable manner, it becomes detrimental to the rest of the society.
The 50% cap exists for a reason. It ensures a win-win situation for both the open category people and the people from backward classes. It ensures that minorities get a reservation without denying the people of General categories.
We must take a look at what the Father of the Constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said in a debate in the Constituent Assembly. He said
“Affirmative action loses its meaning if it does not leave the door slightly ajar for open competition,”
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