The domination of a class generates, after a long night of sleep or stupor of the dominated, an angry awakening and protestant resistance and this conflict between thesis, i.e. the status quo, and antithesis, i.e., the hunger for happy equality, propels new forces of synthesis, i.e., an equitable constitutional order or just society.

-V.K. Krishna Iyer

State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas, (1976) 2 SCC 310

In N.M. Thomas, provisions of the Kerala State and Subordinate Services Rules, 1958 were in question, where Rule 13A required every employee, to be promoted in subordinate services, to clear a test within two years of promotion, but it gave SC/ST candidates an extension of two more years. Later, Rule 13AA was added that enabled the State Government to grant more time to SC/ST candidates to pass the test for promotional posts apart from the initial four years.

The MAIN ISSUE was as to whether the said Rule 13-AA was offending Article 16(1) and 16(2) of the Constitution. In this regard, the following observations of this Court become relevant with emphasis on economic criteria: –

A.N. Ray, C.J.

“44. Our Constitution aims at equality of status and opportunity for all citizens including those who are socially, economically and educationally backward. The claims of members of backward classes require adequate representation in legislative and executive bodies. If members of scheduled castes and tribes, who are said by this Court to be backward classes, can maintain minimum necessary requirement of administrative efficiency, not only representation but also preference may be given to them to enforce equality and to eliminate inequality.

Article 15(4) and 16(4) bring out the position of backward classes to merit equality. Special provisions are made for the advancement of backward classes and reservations of appointments and posts for them to secure adequate representation. These provisions will bring out the content of equality guaranteed by Articles 14, 15(1) and 16(1). The basic concept equality is equality of opportunity for appointment. Preferential treatment for members of backward classes with due regard to administrative efficiency alone can mean equality of opportunity for all citizens.

Equality under Article 16 could not have a different content from equality under Article 14. Equality of opportunity for unequals can only mean aggravation of inequality. Equality of opportunity admits discrimination with reason and prohibits discrimination without reason. Discrimination with reasons means rational classification for differential treatment having nexus to the constitutionally permissible object.

Preferential representation for the backward classes in services with due regard to administrative efficiency is permissible object and backward classes are a rational classification recognised by our Constitution. Therefore, differential treatment in standards of selection are within the concept of equality.

K.K. Mathew, J.

64. It would follow that if we want to give equality of opportunity for employment to the members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, we will have to take note of their social, educational and economic environment. Not only is the directive principle embodied in Article 46 binding on the law-maker as ordinarily understood but it should equally inform and illuminate the approach of the Court when it makes a decision as the Court also is ‘State’ within the meaning of Article 12 and makes law even though “interstitially from the molar to the molecular”.

67. Today, the political theory which acknowledges the obligation of Government under Part IV of the Constitution to provide jobs, medical care, old age pension, etc., extends to human rights and imposes an affirmative obligation to promote equality and liberty. The force of the idea of a State with obligation to help the weaker sections of its members seems to have increasing influence in constitutional law.

The idea finds expression in a number of cases in America involving social discrimination and also in the decisions requiring the State to offset the effects of poverty by providing counsel, transcript of appeal, expert witnesses, etc. Today, the sense that Government has affirmative responsibility for elimination of inequalities, social, economic or otherwise, is one of the dominant forces in constitutional law. While special concessions for the underprivileged have been easily permitted, they have not traditionally been required.

 Decisions in the areas of criminal procedure, voting rights and education in America suggest that the traditional approach may not be completely adequate. In these areas, the inquiry whether equality has been achieved no longer ends with numerical equality; rather the equality clause has been held to require resort to a standard of proportional equality which requires the State, in framing legislation, to take into account the private inequalities of wealth, of education and other circumstances.

78. I agree that Article 16(4) is capable of being interpreted as an exception to Article 16(1) if the equality of opportunity visualized in Article 16(1) is a sterile one, geared to the concept of numerical equality which takes no account of the social, economic, educational background of the members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

If equality of opportunity guaranteed under Article 16(1) means effective material equality, then Article 16(4) is not an exception to Article 16(1). It is only an emphatic way of putting the extent to which equality of opportunity could be carried viz., even upto the point of making reservation.

M.H. Beg, J.

93. When citizens are already employed in a particular grade, as government servants, considerations relating to the sources from which they are drawn lose much of their importance. As public servants of that grade they could, quite reasonably and logically, be said to belong to one class, at least for purposes of promotion in public service for which there ought to be a real “equality of opportunity”, if we are to avoid heart burning or a sense of injustice or frustration in this class.

Neither as members of this single class nor for purposes of the equality of opportunity which is to be afforded to this class does the fact that some of them are also members of an economically and socially backward class continue to be material, or, strictly speaking, even relevant. Their entry, into the same relevant class as others must be deemed to indicate that they no longer suffer from the handicaps of a backward class. For purposes of government service the source from which they are drawn should cease to matter. As government servants they would, strictly speaking, form only one class for purposes of promotion.

94. ….The specified and express mode of realization of these objects contained in Article 16(4), must exclude the possibility of other methods which could be implied and read into Article 16(1) for securing them in this field, one could think of so many other legally permissible and possibly better, or, at least more direct, methods of removing socio-economic inequalities by appropriate legislative action in other fields left open and unoccupied for purposes of discrimination in favour of the backward.

95. ….Article 16(4) was designed to reconcile the conflicting pulls of Article 16(1), representing the dynamics of justice, conceived of as equality in conditions under which candidates actually compete for posts in government service, and of Articles 46 and 335, embodying the duties of the State to promote the interests of the economically, educationally, and socially backward so as to release them from the clutches of social injustice.

These encroachments on the field of Article 16(1) can only be permitted to the extent they are warranted by Article 16(4). To read broader concepts of social justice and equality into Article 16(1) itself may stultify this provision itself and make Article 16(4) otiose.

V.R. Krishna Iyer, J.

120. The domination of a class generates, after a long night of sleep or stupor of the dominated, an angry awakening and protestant resistance and this conflict between thesis, i.e. the status quo, and antithesis, i.e., the hunger for happy equality, propels new forces of synthesis, i.e., an equitable constitutional order or just society. Our founding fathers, possessed of spiritual insight and influenced by the materialist interpretation of history, forestalled such social pressures and pre-empted such economic upsurges and gave us a trinity of commitments — justice: social, economic and political.

The ‘equality articles’ are part of this scheme. My proposition is, given two alternative understandings of the relevant sub-articles [Article 16(1) and (2)], the Court must so interpret the language as to remove that ugly ‘inferiority’ complex which has done genetic damage to Indian polity and thereby suppress the malady and advance the remedy, informed by sociology and social anthropology. My touchstone is that functional democracy postulates participation by all sections of the people and fair representation in administration is an index of such participation.

126. … The Directive Principles of State Policy, fundamental in the governance of the country, enjoin on the State the promotion with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes, … and protect them from social injustice. To neglect this obligation is to play truant with Article 46.

Undoubtedly, economic interests of a group — as also social justice to it — are tied up with its place in the services under the State. Our history, unlike that of some other countries, has found a zealous pursuit of government jobs as a mark of share in State power and economic position.

Moreover, the biggest — and expanding, with considerable State undertakings, — employer is Government, Central and State, so much so appointments in the public services matter increasingly in the prosperity of backward segments. The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have earned special mention in Article 46 and other ‘weaker sections’, in this context, means not every ‘backward class’ but those dismally depressed categories comparable economically and educationally to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

To widen the vent is to vitiate the equal treatment which belongs to all citizens, many of whom are below the poverty line. Realism reveals that politically powerful castes may try to break into equality, using the master key of backwardness but, leaving aside Article 16(4), the ramparts of Article 16(1) and (2) will resist such oblique infiltration.

S. Murtaza Fazal Ali, J.

166. Article 46 of the Constitution runs thus: 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 the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. Properly analysed this article contains a mandate on the State to take special care for the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and as illustrations of the persons who constitute the weaker sections the provision expressly mentions the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes.”