Reservation now for seven decades, shouldn’t continue for ‘an indefinite period’: SC

New Delhi: Two judges of the Supreme Court — while upholding the constitutional validity of the 103rd Constitution Amendment providing 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections (EWS) persons in admissions and government jobs – made some important observations on revisiting the system of reservation in the larger interest of the society, noting that it should not be allowed to become a vested interest.

A five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, S. Ravindra Bhat, Bela M. Trivedi and J.B. Pardiwala, with a 3:2 majority, upheld the EWS reservation in admissions and government jobs. Justice Trivedi and Justice Pardiwala, in separate judgments, made observations on reservation while upholding the EWS quota.

Justice Trivedi said it cannot be gainsaid that the age-old caste system in India was responsible for the origination of the reservation system in the country and it was introduced to correct the historical injustice faced by the persons belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and other backward classes, and to provide them a level playing field to compete with the persons belonging to the forward classes.

“However, at the end of seventy-five years of our independence, we need to revisit the system of reservation in the larger interest of the society as a whole, as a step forward towards transformative constitutionalism,” she said in her separate judgment.

Justice Pardiwala said reservation is not an end but a means – a means to secure social and economic justice. He added that reservation should not be allowed to become a vested interest and real solution, however, lies in eliminating the causes that have led to the social, educational and economic backwardness of the weaker sections of the community.

“This exercise of eliminating the causes started immediately after the Independence i.e., almost seven decades back and it still continues… As larger percentages of backward class members attain acceptable standards of education and employment, they should be removed from the backward categories so that the attention can be paid toward those classes which genuinely need help,” he said in his separate judgment.

He added that it is very much necessary to take into review the method of identification and the ways of determining backward classes, and also, ascertain whether the criteria adopted or applied for the classification of backward classes is relevant for today’s conditions.

“The idea of Baba Saheb Ambedkar was to bring social harmony by introducing reservation for only ten years. However, it has continued past seven decades. Reservation should not continue for an indefinite period of time so as to become a vested interest,” said Justice Pardiwala.

Justice Trivedi said: “What was envisioned by the framers of the Constitution, what was proposed by the Constitution Bench in 1985 and what was sought to be achieved on the completion of fifty years of the advent of the Constitution, i.e. that the policy of reservation must have a time span, has still not been achieved even till this day, i.e. till the completion of seventy-five years of our Independence.”

She added can we not move towards an ideal envisaged by the framers of our Constitution to have an egalitarian, casteless and classless society? Though difficult, it is an achievable ideal. “Our Constitution which is a living and organic document continuously shapes the lives of citizens in particular and societies in general,” she said.

Justice Pardiwala said the new concept of economic criteria introduced by the impugned amendment for affirmative action may go a long way in eradicating caste-based reservation and it may be perceived as a first step in the process of doing away with caste-based reservation.


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