M Nagaraj v. UOI [AIR 2007 SC 71]

The case dealt with the validity of Article 16 (4A) and 16 (4B) as well as gave a three prong test for Backward classes so as to grant reservation in promotion. 

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 19/10/2006

COURT: Supreme Court of India

JUDGES: Y.K.Sabharwal, K.G.Balakrishnan, S.H.Kapadia, C.K.Thakker, and P.K. Balasubramanyan

REFERENCE: Writ Petition (civil) 61 of 2002


Petitioner: M. Nagaraj

Respondent: Union of India

SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around the question of whether reservation for SC/ST in promotion under Article 16 which gives equality of opportunity in Public employment is constitutionally valid?

Facts – The present case related to the question of constitutional validity of Article 16 (4A) and (4B) as well as the 77th, 81st, 82nd and 85th Amendments of the Constitution.  In 1995, as a response to the decisions made in the Indra Sawhney case, the government brought forth Article 16 (4A) by way of insertion made by 77th Amendment in the Indian Constitution. As per this amendment, the State was now empowered to make reservations in case of promotions to SC/STs, wherever it believed that there is no adequate representation of such groups in public services.

The 81st Amendment permitted the government to lift the 50% cap on regular reservations by introduction of the Carry Forward Rule as under Clause 4B of Article 16. Due to this, the backlog of unfulfilled vacancies can now be carried forward from the previous years to the current year. 

The 82nd Amendment added a provision to Article 335. According to Article 335, all the reservations which are made for ST/SC have to be in accordance with efficiency of administration. By adding a provision to this article the government ensured nothing can withstand it from relaxing the standard of evaluation or reducing qualifying marks in matter of reservation/promotion for ST/SCs.  

The 85th Amendment replaced the text “to any class” to “consequential seniority to any class” under Article 16 clause 4A for promotion and reservation. The purpose was to ensure the interests of government servants and the promotion to higher grade.

Issues – 

  • Whether the 77th Amendment and Article 16 (4A) hold constitutional validity or not?
  • Whether the 81st Amendment and Article 16 (4B) hold constitutional validity or not?
  • Whether the 82nd Amendment holds constitutional validity or not?
  • Whether the 85th Amendment holds constitutional validity or not?

Judgment – The constitutional validity of Articles 16 (4A) and (4B) was affirmed, as was the validity of the 77th, 81st, 82nd and 85th amendments. Even though the doctrine of equality was a key component of the basic structure of Constitution, the rule that prevented granting seniority was not, and thus the doctrine of basic structure cannot be applied.

In the current case, the court discussed a number of issues spanning from the purview of judicial review to doctrine of basic structure and authority of Parliament to assert its power to amend as per Article 368. Regarding the context of purview of judicial review, it was adjudged that the authority of judicial review is a key component of the basic structure of Constitution and that the Court is obligated to assert this power whenever it is confronted with questions concerning a violation of the basic structure.

Furthermore, it was decided by the court that the basic structure is an integral part of our constitution and there can be no violation at any expense. However, the notion of reservation in promotions cannot be linked with the notion of equality, thus, the same method and structure of testing cannot be applied. 

It was further declared by the court that the State has to comply with three strict requirements so as to grant reservation in promotion:

1.      Collect quantifiable data for the purpose of demonstrating backwardness of a particular backward class.

2.      Show beyond doubt that the ST/SC is being inadequately represented in public services.

3.      Comply with the overall levels of efficiency of administration.

The Court declared that it is not required to make a reservation for SCs and STs in promotion, but if it does, it must satisfy the 3 strand test set up in this case.