Cases of Champakam Dorairajan and Venkataraman (1951)

Soon after the enforcement of the Constitution two cases reached Supreme Court from the State of Madras – one under Article 15 and the other under Article 16. Both the cases were decided on the same date and by the same Bench.

The one arising under Article 15 is State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan [1951] S.C.R. 525, and the other arising under Article 16 is Venkataraman v. State of Madras A.I.R. 1951 S.C. 229. By virtue of certain orders issued prior to coming into force of the Constitution,-popularly known as ‘Communal G.O.’ – seats in the Medical and Engineering Colleges in the State of Madras were apportioned in the following manner:

Non-Brahmin (Hindus)-6, Backward Hindus-2, Brahmin-2, Harijan-2, Anglo Indians and Indian Christians-1, Muslims-1. Even after the advent of the Constitution, the G.O. was being acted upon which was challenged by Smt. Champakam as violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed to her by Articles 15(1) and 29(2) of the Constitution of India.

A Full Bench of Madras High Court declared the said G.O. as void and un-enforceable with the advent of the Constitution. The State of Madras brought the matter in appeal to Supreme Court. A Special Bench of Seven Judges heard the matter and came to the unanimous conclusion that the allocation of seats in the manner aforesaid is violative of Articles 15(1) and 29(2) inasmuch as the refusal to admit the respondent (writ petitioner) notwithstanding her higher marks, was based only on the ground of caste.

The State of Madras sought to sustain the G.O. with reference to Article 46 of the Constitution. Indeed the argument was that Article 46 over-rides Article 29(2). This argument was rejected. The Court pointed out that while in the case of employment under the State, Clause (4) of Article 16 provides for reservations in favour of backward class of citizens, no such provision was made in Article 15.

In the matter of appointment to public services too, a similar communal G.O. was in force in the State of Madras since prior to the Constitution. In December, 1949, the Madras Public Service Commission invited applications for 83 posts of District Munsifs, specifying at the same time that the selection of the candidates would be made from the various castes, religions and communities as specified in the communal G.C. The 83 vacancies were distributed in the following manner: Harijans-19, Muslims-5, Christians-6, Backward Hindus-10, Non-Brahmin (Hindus)-32 and Brahmins-11.

The petitioner Venkataraman (it was a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution) applied for and appeared at the interview and the admitted position was that if the provisions of the communal G.O. were to be disregarded, he would have been selected. Because of the CO., he was not selected (he belonged to Brahmin community). Whereupon he approached Supreme Court. S.R. Das, J. speaking for the Special Bench referred to Article 16 and in particular to Clause (4) thereof and observed:

“Reservation of posts in favour of any backward class of citizens cannot, therefore, be regarded as unconstitutional”.

He proceeded to hold:

This ineligibility created by the Communal G.O. does not appear to us to be sanctioned by Clause (4) of Article 16 and it is an infringement of the fundamental right guaranteed to the an individual citizen under Article 16(1) & (2). The Communal G.O., in our opinion, is repugnant to the provisions of Article 16 & is as such void and illegal.

Amendment to Constitution after Champakam Case

Soon after the said two decisions were rendered the Parliament intervened and in exercise of its constituent power, amended Article 15 by inserting Clause (4), which reads:

“Nothing in this article or in Clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.”

It is worthy of notice that the Parliament, which enacted the first Amendment to the Constitution, was in fact the very same Constituent Assembly which had framed the Constitution. The speech of Dr. Ambedkar on the occasion is again instructive. He said:-

“Then with regard to Article 16, Clause (4), my submission is this that it is really impossible to make any reservation which would not result in excluding somebody who has a caste. I think it has to be borne in mind and it is one of the fundamental principles which I believe is stated in Mulla’s edition on the very first page that there is no Hindu who has not a caste. Every Hindu has a caste-he is either a Brahmin or a Mahratta or a Kundby or a Kumbhar or a carpenter.

There is no Hindu-that is the fundamental proposition-who has not a caste. Consequently, if you make a reservation in favour of what are called backward classes which are nothing else but a collection of certain castes, those who are excluded are persons who belong to certain castes. Therefore, in the circumstances of this country, it is impossible to avoid reservation without excluding some people who have got a caste.”

Balaji v. The State of Mysore (1962)

After the enactment of the First Amendment the first case that came up before Supreme Court is Balaji v. The State of Mysore. (In the year 1961, Supreme Court decided the General Manager, Southern Railway v. Rasngachari, but that related to reservations in favour of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the matter of promotion in the Railways.)

In the State of Karnataka, reservations were in force since a few decades prior to the advent of the Constitution and were being continued even thereafter. On July 26, 1958 the State of Mysore issued an order under Article 15(4) of the Constitution declaring all the communities excepting the Brahmin community as socially and educationally backward and reserving a total of 75 per cent seats in Educational Institutions in favour of SEBCs and SCs/STs. Such orders were being issued every year, with minor variation in the percentage of reservations.

On 13th of July, 1972, a similar order was issued wherein 68 per cent of the seats in all Engineering and Medical Colleges and Technical Institutions in the State were reserved in the favour of the SEBCs, SCs and STs. SEBCs were again divided into two categories-backward classes and more backward classes. The validity of this order was questioned under Article 32 of the Constitution. While striking down the said order Supreme Court enunciated the following principles:-

(1) Clause (4) of Article 15 is a proviso or an exception to Clause (1) of Article 15 and to Clause (2) of Article 29;

(2) For the purpose of Article 15(4), backwardness must be both social and educational. Though caste in relation to Hindus may be a relevant factor to consider, in determining the social backwardness of a class of citizens, it cannot be made the sole and dominant test. Christians, Jains and Muslims do not believe in caste system; the test of caste cannot be applied to them. Inasmuch as identification of all backward classes under the impugned order has been made solely on the basis of caste, it is bad.

(3) The reservation made under Clause (4) of Article 15 should be reasonable. It should not be such as to defeat or nullify the main Rule of equality contained in Clause (1). While it is not possible to predicate the exact permissible percentage of reservations, it can be stated in a general and broad way that they should be less than 50 per cent.

(4) A provision under Article 15(4) need not be in the form of legislation; it can be made by an executive order.

(5) The further categorisation of backward classes into backward and more backward is not warranted by Article 15(4).

It must be remembered that Balaji was a decision rendered under and with reference to Article 15 though it contains certain observations with respect to Article 16 as well.

Devadasan v. Union of India (1964)

Soon after the decision in Balaji Supreme Court was confronted with a case arising under Article 16 – Devadasan v. Union of India. This was also a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. It related to the validity of the ‘carry-forward’ rule obtaining in Central Secretariat Service. The reservation in favour of Scheduled Castes was twelve and half per cent while the reservation in favour of Scheduled Tribes was five per cent. The ‘carry-forward’ rule considered in the said decision was in the following terms:

“If a sufficient number of candidates considered suitable by the recruiting authorities, are not available from the communities for whom reservations are made in a particular year, the unfilled vacancies should be treated as unreserved and filled by the best available candidates. The number of reserved vacancies, thus, treated as unreserved will be added as an additional quota to the number that would be reserved in the following year in the normal course; and to the extent to which approved candidates are not available in that year against this additional quotas, a corresponding addition should be made to the number of reserved vacancies in the second following year.”

Because sufficient number of SC/ST candidates were not available during the earlier years the unfilled vacancies meant for them were carried forward as contemplated by the said rule and filled up in the third year – that is in the year 1961. Out of 45 appointments made, 29 went to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In other words, the extent of reservation in the third year came to 65 per cent. The rule was declared unconstitutional by the Constitution Bench, with Subba Rao, J. dissenting. The majority held that the carry forward rule which resulted in more than 50 per cent of the vacancies being reserved in a particular year, is bad. The principle enunciated in Balaji regarding 50 percent was followed.

Subba Rao, J. in his dissenting opinion, however, upheld the said rule. The learned Judge observed:

“The expression, “nothing in this article” is a legislative device to express its intention in a most emphatic way that the power conferred thereunder is not limited in any way by the main provision but falls outside it. It has not really carved out an exception, but has preserved a power untrammelled by the other provisions of the Article.”

The learned Judge opined that once a class is a backward class, the question whether it is adequately represented or not is left to the subjective satisfaction of the State and is not a matter for Supreme Court to prescribe.

Chitralekha v. State of Mysore (1964)

In the year 1964 another case from Mysore arose, again under Article 15 – Chitralekha v. State of Mysore. The Mysore Government had by an order defined backward classes on the basis of occupation and income, unrelated to caste. Thirty per cent of seats in professional and technical institutions were reserved for them in addition to eighteen per cent in favour of SCs and STs.

One of the arguments urged was that the identification done without taking the caste into consideration is impermissible. The majority speaking through Subba Rao, J., held the identification or classification of backward classes on the basis of occupation-cum-income, without reference to caste, is not bad and does not offend Article 15(4).

P. Rajendran v. State of Madras (1968)

During the years 1968 to 1971, Supreme Court had to consider the validity of identification of backward classes made by Madras and Andhra Pradesh Governments. Minor P. Rajendran v. State of Madras related to specification of socially and educationally backward classes with reference to castes. The question was whether such an identification infringes Article 15. Wanchoo, CJ., speaking for the Constitution Bench dealt with the contention in the following words:

“The contention is that the list of socially and educationally backward classes for whom reservation is made under Rule 5 nothing but a list of certain castes. Therefore, reservation in favour of certain castes based only on caste considerations violates Article 15(1), which prohibits discrimination on the ground of caste only. Now if the reservation in question had been based only on caste and had not taken into account the social and educational backwardness of the caste in question, it would be violative of Article 15(1).

But it must not be forgotten that a caste is also a class of citizens and if the caste as a whole is socially and educationally backward reservation can be made in favour of such a caste on the ground that it is a socially and educationally backward class of citizens within the meaning of Article 15(4)….

It is true that in the present cases the list of socially and educationally backward classes has been specified by caste. But that does not necessarily mean that caste was the sole consideration and that person belonging to these castes are also not a class of socially and educationally backward citizens….

As it was found that members of these castes as a whole were educationally and socially backward, the list which had been coming on from as far back as 1906 was finally adopted for purposes of Article 15(4) In view however of the explanation given by the State of Madras, which has not been controverted by and rejoinder, it must be accepted that though the list shows certain castes, the members of those castes are really classes of educationally and socially backward citizens.

No attempt was made on behalf of the petitioners/appellant to show that any caste mentioned in this list was not educationally and socially backward. In this state of the pleadings, we must come to the conclusion that though the list is prepared caste-wise, the castes included therein are as a whole educationally and socially backward and therefore the list is not violative of Article 15. The challenge to Rule 5 must therefore fail.”

Caste is Class

The shift in approach and emphasis is obvious. The Court now held that a caste is a class of citizens and that if a caste as a whole is socially and educationally backward, reservation can be made in favour of such a caste on the ground that it is a socially and educationally backward class of citizens within the meaning of Article 15(4). More over the burden of proving that the specification/identification was bad, was placed upon the petitioners. In case of failure to discharge that burden, the identification made by the State was upheld. The identification made on the basis of caste was upheld inasmuch as the petitioner failed to prove that any caste mentioned in the list was not socially and educationally backward.