Supreme Court allows reservations in SC/ST promotions

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Supreme Court in its June 5, 2018 verdict allowed the Centre to continue with reservations in promotions at government jobs for SC/ST candidates. The Court further remarked that until the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court finally disposed of the matter about reservations the government is allowed to follow the rules and regulations it applied in case of promotions.

Facts of the case

The matter of SC/ST reservations had been an issue of contention for several decades with conflicting judgments from various high courts and even verdicts of the Apex Court. The present issue arose due to Delhi High Court verdict on August 23, 2017, when the Delhi High Court set aside the 1997 order of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) regarding the reservation for the promotion of SC/ST employees. The Court further directed that the Centre must first collect the data on inadequate representation before granting reservation in promotion without which it cannot use quota system in case of promotions.

In its landmark judgment in Indra Sawhney and others vs. Union of India the top court had permitted reservation for the SCs and STs in promotion to continue for a period of five years from November 16, 1992. But the DoPT order was issued after the lapse of the said time period. In a similar situation the verdict held by the Bombay High Court quashing two state government notifications as ultra vires to Article 16 (4A) came up for discussions when the Apex Court in its November 15, 2017 ruling observed that it will let a Constitution Bench decide whether or not the 11-year-old judgment in M Nagaraj case was needed to be rechecked with regards to providing reservation in promotion to SC/ST based on quantifiable data.

Court ruling

The present case was heard by Honourable Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Ashok Bhushan of the Supreme Court’s Vacation Bench (VC) and they agreed with the Central government’s contention that “promotion has come to a standstill due to the orders passed by various high courts and the apex court.” Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Maninder Singh represented the government and on a question directed by the Apex Court stated that the conflicting rulings had stalled promotions for SC and ST employees and have led to non-implementation of quota guidelines as well.

The Supreme Court’s Vacation Bench (VC) passed its judgment and agreeing with ASG Singh’s observations noted, “We will say you (Centre) can go ahead with promotion in accordance with law.” But in its decision, the Apex Court did not clarify in details which rules and regulations it was pointing to for the government to comply with its decision and left the interpretation to Centre’s discretion which could become a bone of contention for controversy regarding this judgment.

Impact of the judgment

The verdict though was of similar nature to previous judgment (May 17) of the top court by Justice Kurian Joseph which was the main relief ASG Singh had going for, it still did not lead to satisfactory conclusions; for which the judges of the Vacation Bench remarked that the interim decision will continue until the final judgment is heard on the matter by the Apex Court’s Constitution Bench.

The judgment no doubt, would be considered a win from Central government’s standpoint and years of stalled promotions could now be resolved satisfactorily but it left a lot of unanswered questions regarding reservations and its implications in an increasingly overpopulated, unemployed country, not to forget the original intentions of our Constitution makers who never wished the reservation to continue in post-independent India for longer than necessary.

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