In M. Nagraj v. Union of India (2007), the Constitution Bench validated-

  • the Constitution (Seventy-seventh Amendment) Act, 1995 which inserted Article 16(4-A);
  • the Constitution (Eighty-first Amendment) Act, 2000 which inserted Article 16(4-B);
  • the Constitution (Eighty-second Amendment) Act, 2000 which inserted a proviso to Article 335; and
  • the Constitution (Eighty-fifth Amendment) Act, 2001 which added “consequential seniority” for SC/STs under Article 16(4-B).

The said amendments were introduced essentially to nullify the effect of the decision in Indra Sawhney wherein a 9-Judge Bench had ruled that reservation in appointments did not apply to promotions.

  • Article 16(4-A) enables the State to make any law regarding reservation in promotion for SC/STs.
  • Article 16(4-B) provides that reserved promotion posts for SC/STs that remain unfilled, can be carried forward to the subsequent year.
  • Article 16(4-B) also ensures that the ceiling on the reservation quota for these carried forward posts does not apply to subsequent years.

Article 335 mandates that reservations have to be balanced with the ‘maintenance of efficiency’. The amendment to Article 335 clarified that the Article will not apply to the State relaxing evaluation standards ‘in matters of promotion’. The Court held as under: –

“104. Applying the above tests to the present case, there is no violation of the basic structure by any of the impugned amendments, including the Constitution (Eighty-second) Amendment Act, 2000. The constitutional limitation under Article 335 is relaxed and not obliterated. As stated above, be it reservation or evaluation, excessiveness in either would result in violation of the constitutional mandate. This exercise, however, will depend on the facts of each case.

In our view, the field of exercise of the amending power is retained by the impugned amendments, as the impugned amendments have introduced merely enabling provisions because, as stated above, merit, efficiency, backwardness and inadequacy cannot be identified and measured in vacuum. Moreover, Article 16(4-A) and Article 16(4-B) fall in the pattern of Article 16(4) and as long as the parameters mentioned in those articles are complied with by the States, the provision of reservation cannot be faulted.

Articles 16(4-A) and 16(4-B) are classifications within the principle of equality under Article 16(4).

108. Applying the above tests to the proviso to Article 335 inserted by the Constitution (Eighty-second Amendment) Act, 2000 we find that the said proviso has a nexus with Articles 16(4-A) and 16(4- B). Efficiency in administration is held to be a constitutional limitation on the discretion vested in the State to provide for reservation in public employment. Under the proviso to Article 335, it is stated that nothing in Article 335 shall prevent the State to relax qualifying marks or standards of evaluation for reservation in promotion. This proviso is also confined only to members of SCs and STs.

This proviso is also conferring discretionary power on the State to relax qualifying marks or standards of evaluation. Therefore, the question before us is—whether the State could be empowered to relax qualifying marks or standards for reservation in matters of promotion. In our view, even after insertion of this proviso, the limitation of overall efficiency in Article 335 is not obliterated. Reason is that “efficiency” is a variable factor.

It is for the State concerned to decide in a given case, whether the overall efficiency of the system is affected by such relaxation. If the relaxation is so excessive that it ceases to be qualifying marks then certainly in a given case, as in the past, the State is free not to relax such standards. In other cases, the State may evolve a mechanism under which efficiency, equity and justice, all three variables, could be accommodated.

Moreover, Article 335 is to be read with Article 46 which provides that the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice. Therefore, where the State finds compelling interests of backwardness and inadequacy, it may relax the qualifying marks for SCs/STs. These compelling interests however have to be identified by weighty and comparable data.

109. In conclusion, we reiterate that the object behind the impugned constitutional amendments is to confer discretion on the State to make reservations for SCs/STs in promotions subject to the circumstances and the constitutional limitations indicated above.

121. The impugned constitutional amendments by which Articles 16(4-A) and 16(4-B) have been inserted flow from Article 16(4). They do not alter the structure of Article 16(4). They retain the controlling factors or the compelling reasons, namely, backwardness and inadequacy of representation which enables the States to provide for reservation keeping in mind the overall efficiency of the State administration under Article 335.

These impugned amendments are confined only to SCs and STs. They do not obliterate any of the constitutional requirements, namely, ceiling limit of 50% (quantitative limitation), the concept of creamy layer (qualitative exclusion), the sub-classification between OBCs on one hand and SCs and STs on the other hand as held in Indra Sawhney, the concept of post-based roster with inbuilt concept of replacement as held in R.K. Sabharwal.

124. Subject to the above, we uphold the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Seventy-seventh Amendment) Act, 1995; the Constitution (Eighty-first Amendment) Act, 2000; the Constitution (Eighty-second Amendment) Act, 2000 and the Constitution (Eighty-fifth Amendment) Act, 2001.”