In Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992), the following observations were made in regard to the myriad features of backwardness including economic backwardness: –

S. Ratnavael Pandian, J.

“44. The word ‘backward’ is very wide bringing within its fold the social backwardness, educational backwardness, economic backwardness, political backwardness and even physical backwardness. *** *** ***

116. The composition and terms of reference of the Second Backward Classes Commission show that the Commission was appointed to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India but not the socially, economically and educationally backward classes.

The earlier OM issued on August 13, 1990 reads that with a view to providing certain weightage to socially and educationally backward classes in the services of the Union and their Public Undertakings, as recommended by the Commission, the orders are issued in the terms mentioned therein. The said OM also explains that “the SEBC would comprise in the 113 first phase the castes and communities which are common to both the lists, in the report of the Commission and the State Governments’ list”.

In addition it is said that a list of such castes/communities is being issued separately. The subsequent amended OM dated September 25, 1991 states that in order to enable the ‘poorer sections’ of the SEBCs to receive the benefits of reservation on a preferential basis and to provide reservation for other economically backward sections of the people not covered by any of the existing schemes of reservation, the Government have decided to amend the earlier Memorandum.

Thus this amended OM firstly speaks of the ‘poorer sections’ of the SEBCs and secondly about the economically backward sections of the people not covered by any of the existing schemes of reservation. However, both the OMs while referring to the SEBCs, do not include the ‘economic backwardness’ of that class along with ‘social and educational backwardness’.

By the amended OM, the Government while providing reservation for the backward sections of the people not covered by the existing schemes of reservation meant for SEBCs, classifies that section of the people as ‘economically backward’, that is to say that those backward sections of the people are to be identified only by their economic backwardness and not by the test of social and educational backwardness, evidently for the reason that they are all socially and educationally well advanced.

117. Coming to Article 16(4) the words ‘backward class’ are used with a wider connotation and without any qualification or explanation. Therefore, it must be construed in the wider perspective. Though the OMs speak of social and educational backwardness of a class, the primary consideration in identifying a class and in ascertaining the inadequate representation of that class in the services under the State under Article 16(4) is the social backwardness which results in educational backwardness, both of which culminate in economic backwardness.

The degree of importance to be attached to social backwardness is much more than the importance to be given to the educational backwardness and the economic backwardness, because in identifying and classifying a section of people as a backward class within the meaning of Article 16(4) for the reservation of appointments or posts, the ‘social backwardness’ plays a predominant role.”

Sawant, J.

482. Economic backwardness is the bane of the majority of the people in this country. There are poor sections in all the castes and communities. Poverty runs across all barriers. The nature and degree of economic backwardness and its causes and effects, however, vary from section to section of the 114 populace. Even the poor among the higher castes are socially as superior to the lower castes as the rich among the higher castes. Their economic backwardness is not on account of social backwardness.

The educational backwardness of some individuals among them may be on account of their poverty in which case economic props alone may enable them to gain an equal capacity to compete with others. On the other hand, those who are socially backward such as the lower castes or occupational groups, are also educationally backward on account of their social backwardness, their economic backwardness being the consequence of both their social and educational backwardness. Their educational backwardness is not on account of their economic backwardness alone. It is mainly on account of their social backwardness.

Hence mere economic aid will not enable them to compete with others and particularly with those who are socially advanced. Their social backwardness is the cause and not the consequence either of their economic or educational backwardness. It is necessary to bear this vital distinction in mind to understand the true import of the expression “backward class of citizens” in Article 16(4). If it is mere educational backwardness or mere economic backwardness that was intended to be specially catered to, there was no need to make a provision for reservation in employment in the services under the State. That could be taken care of under Articles 15(4), 38 and 46.

The provision for reservation in appointments under Article 16(4) is not aimed at economic upliftment or alleviation of poverty. Article 16(4) is specifically designed to give a due share in the State power to those who have remained out of it mainly on account of their social and, therefore, educational and economic backwardness. The backwardness that is contemplated by Article 16(4) is the backwardness which is both the cause and the consequence of non-representation in the administration of the country. All other kinds of backwardness are irrelevant for the purpose of the said article.

Further, the backwardness has to be a backwardness of the whole class and not of some individuals belonging to the class, which individuals may be economically or educationally backward, but the class to which they belong may be socially forward and adequately or even more than adequately represented in the services. Since the reservation under Article 16(4) is not for the individuals but to a class which must be both backward and inadequately represented in the services, such individuals would not be beneficiaries of reservation under Article 16(4).

It is further difficult to come across a “class” (not individuals) which is socially and educationally advanced but is economically backward or which is not adequately represented in the services of the State on account of its economic backwardness. Hence, mere economic or mere educational 115 backwardness which is not the result of social backwardness, cannot be a criterion of backwardness for Article 16(4). *** *** ***

492. While discussing Question No. I, it has been pointed out that so far as “backward classes” are concerned, clause (4) of Article 16 is exhaustive of reservations meant for them. It has further been pointed out under Question No. II that the only “backward class” for which reservations are provided under the said clause is the socially backward class whose educational and economic backwardness is on account of the social backwardness.

A class which is not socially and educationally backward though economically or even educationally backward is not a backward class for the purposes of the said clause. What follows from these two conclusions is that reservations in posts cannot be made in favour of any other class under the said clause. Further, the purpose of keeping reservations even in favour of the socially and educationally backward classes under clause (4), is not to alleviate poverty but to give it an adequate share in power.

B.P. Jeevan Reddy, J.

799. It follows from the discussion under Question No. 3 that a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion. It may be a consideration or basis along with and in addition to social backwardness, but it can never be the sole criterion. This is the view uniformly taken by this Court and we respectfully agree with the same. *** *** ***

843. While dealing with Question No. 3(d), we held that exclusion of ‘creamy layer’ must be on the basis of social advancement (such advancement as renders them misfits in the backward classes) and not on the basis of mere economic criteria. At the same time, we held that income or the extent of property held by a person can be taken as a measure of social advancement and on that basis ‘creamy layer’ of a given caste/community/occupational group can be excluded to arrive at a true backward class.

Under Question No. 5, we held that it is not impermissible for the State to categorise backward classes into backward and more backward on the basis of their relative social backwardness. We had also given the illustration of two occupational groups, viz., goldsmiths and vaddes (traditional stone-cutters in Andhra Pradesh); both are included within ‘other backward classes’. If these two groups are lumped together and a common reservation is made, the goldsmiths would walk away with all the vacancies leaving none for vaddes.

From the said point of view, it was observed, such classification among the designated backwards classes may indeed serve to help the more backward among them to get their due. But the question now is whether clause (i) of the Office Memorandum dated September 25, 1991 is sustainable in law. The said clause provides for preference in favour of “poorer sections” of the backward classes over other members of the backward classes.

On first impression, it may appear that backward classes are classified into two sub-groups on the basis of economic criteria alone and a preference provided in favour of the poorer sections of the backward classes. In our considered opinion, however, such an interpretation would not be consistent with context in which the said expression is used and the spirit underlying the clause nor would it further the objective it seeks to achieve.

The object of the clause is to provide a preference in favour of more backward among the “socially and educationally backward classes”. In other words, the expression ‘poorer sections’ was meant to refer to those who are socially and economically more backward. The use of the word ‘poorer’, in the context, is meant only as a measure of social backwardness. (Of course, the Government is yet to notify which classes among the designated backward classes are more socially backward, i.e., ‘poorer sections’).

Understood in this sense, the said classification is not and cannot be termed as invalid either constitutionally speaking or in law. The next question that arises is: what is the meaning and context of the expression ‘preference’? Having regard to the fact the backward classes are sought to be divided into two sub-categories, viz., backward and more backward, the expression ‘preference’ must be read down to mean an equitable apportionment of the vacancies reserved (for backward classes) among them.

The object evidently could not have been to deprive the ‘backward’ altogether from benefit of reservation, which could be the result if word ‘preference’ is read literally — if the ‘more backward’ take away all the available vacancies/posts reserved for OBCs, none would remain for ‘backward’ among the OBCs. It is for this reason that we are inclined to read down the expression to mean an equitable apportionment.

This, in our opinion, is the proper and reasonable way of understanding the expression ‘preference’ in the context in which it occurs. By giving the above interpretation, we would be effectuating the underlying purpose and the true intention behind the clause.”