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Reservation in Promotion

In promotions the law on reservation has undergone several changes. Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment is being guaranteed by Article 16th of the Constitution Of India. Article 16(1) contains this principle as follows:

“16. Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.—(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. Reservation in matters of promotion are dealt by Clause 4 and 4A of Article 16 respectively.

Law before Constitution (Seventy-seventh Amendment) Act, 1995

Even, The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, as early as in 1961, had read such a power implicit under Article 16(4) and as exception to the broader principle of equality enshrined under Article 16(1) when the explicit power to provide reservation in promotion was not given to the states. In General Manager, Southern Railway v. Rangachari AIR 1962 SC 36 it was held that Article 16(1) confers equality to citizens not only in terms of initial appointment but also in respect of other matters relating to employment like, gratuity, superannuation, terms of service, promotion, etc.

Landmark Ruling- Indra Sawhney (1992)

In Indra Sawhney and Ors. V. Union of India & Ors., 1992 Supp (3) SCC 217 (9 judges Bench) the aforesaid interpretation was altered to a great extent. The Hon’ble Court in this 9 judges’ Bench decision answered several questions pertaining to reservations.

It was held by the court that Clause 1 of Article 16 is a facet of Article 14 which furthers the guarantee of equality in matters of employment. Article 16 similar to article 14 inheres in itself the same powers permit classification and to make beneficial provisions for classes which are differently situated. Clause (4) thus is not an exception to Clause (1) and even without Clause (4), it would have been permissible for the State to have evolved such a classification and made a provision for reservation of appointments/posts in their favour.

Striking down reservation in promotions

However, in Rangachari when it came to providing reservation in promotions the Hon’ble

Court disagreed with the view that reservations in promotion are contemplated under Article 16(4). The Court thus, in Indira Sawhney concluded that reservation under Article 16(1) is only contemplated at the stage of direct recruitment and not at the stage of promotion. The efficiency of administration and violate the principle of equality enshrined under Article 16(1) would be violated if any effort is made to provide reservation at promotion.

The Court thus held that the majority opinion in Rangachari, to the extent it holds, that Article 16(4) permits reservation even in the matter of promotion, was not sustainable in principle and ought to be departed from.

Challenge to the insertion of Clause 4(A) to Article 16

In M. Nagaraj v. Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 212 (5 Judges Bench) Article 16(4A) was subsequently challenged. The amendment was upheld by the Court stating that the amendment merely alters the law relating to reservations that it does not impinge upon the right to equality which is a fundamental right and part of basic structure of the Constitution.

Thus the court upheld providing reservation in promotion.

Subsequent development of the requirement to collect quantifiable data

In Jarnail Singh and Ors. V. Lachhmi Narain Gupta and Ors., (2018) 10 SCC 396 (5 Judges Bench) the decision in Nagraj Singh was challenged. In this case it was contested that the observation in Nagraj that the State has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness in respect of the SCs and STs and application of the principle of creamy layer in respect of SCs and STs is contrary decision in Indra Sawhney. Further it was contended that in Indira Sawhney this Court had held that SCs and STs are the most backward among backward classes and it is, therefore, presumed that once they are contained in the Presidential List Under Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution of India, there is no question of showing backwardness of the SCs and STs all over again.


It is now therefore established law that if state seeks to provide reservation to members of SCs and STs, quantifiable data vis-a-vis representation of SCs and STs in a particular cadre of a service has to be collected and it has to form an opinion about inadequacy of representation based on that data. Further, the state also has to ascertain the effect of reservation on the efficiency in administration notwithstanding how difficult it might be. Hence only on the fulfilment of these two criteria, the state can justify its action of providing reservation in promotions.

This article is written by Ruel Correia of Amity University.

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