Intern, Constitutional Rights Initiative
The constitution of India guarantees the Right to equality to all. However this equality means equality between those who are in similar circumstances and in no way at a different footing from others. The rule is like should be treated alike. To fulfill the goal of equality several affirmative actions were taken by the Indian government in order to bring underprivileged section of the society at par with the privileged section. One such action was reservation in education and jobs.
Reservation owes its emergence to the age old practice of the Caste system in India, which carved up people based on their profession and relegated a part of society to a secondary place, wherein they were forced to do certain work.
Thus to curb social disparity and raise the quality of life, government of India came up with the notion of reservation in education so that India can proceed on the path of development. Educational reservation dates back to the early 20th century. In 1902 the Maharaja of Kolhapur introduced reservation in favour of Non Brahmin & Backward Classes in educational institutions.
After the enforcement of the Indian constitution the Tamil Nadu govt with the object of fulfilling social justice for all sections as mentioned in Article 46 of the Indian constitution, reserved seats in professional educational institutions. This act was challenged in "State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan" case in 1951 in which the apex court overruled the act stating that it promotes discrimination on the basis of caste and religion.
To negate this decision, the 1st amendment act 1951 was brought, which inserted art15(4) which sanctioned the state governments for making special provisions for the advancement of socially educationally backward class or SCs or STs. However, this provision under article 15(4) is only enabling provision and the state government is not in anyway bound by it.
The topic of Reservation in professional courses or in higher studies has always been a battleground for those of dissenting views.
In the case of M.R. Balaji and Ors. v. State of Mysore 1962 the Supreme Court considered the question relating to the extent of special provisions which the State can make, under Article 15(4). The court held that the state would not be justified in ignoring the altogether advancement of the rest of the society in its zeal to promote the welfare of the backward as national interest would suffer if qualified and competent students were excluded from admission into higher institution.
In the case of Dr. Jagdish Saran and Ors. v. Union of India 198, the reservation of 70% of seats for the local candidates in admissions to the Post Graduate Medical Courses by the Delhi University was struck down by the Supreme Court. It was held that “one cannot wholly exclude meritorious candidates as that will promote sub-standard candidates and bring about a fall in medical competence which is injurious in the long run and, the court held that reservation must be kept in check by the demands of competence. One cannot extend the shelter of reservation where minimum qualifications are absent. Similarly, all the best talent cannot be completely excluded by wholesale reservation. A fair preference, a reasonable reservation should be given”.
In Indra Sawhney v. Union of India( 1993), Jeevan Reddy J. stated that “ there are certain services and positions where either on account of nature of duties attached to them or the level (in the hierarchy) at which they obtain, merit alone counts. In such situations it may not be advisable to provide for reservations. For example, technical posts in research and development organizations /departments/institutions, in specialties and super-specialties in medicine, engineering and other such courses in physical science and mathematics, in defence services and in the establishments connected therewith.”
A similar view has been taken in Mohan Bir Singh Chawla v. Punjab University (1997), where the Court stated that at higher levels of education, it would be dangerous to depreciate merit and excellence. As the quality and standard of education will be compromised
However Supreme court in various cases like "State of MP v. Nivedita Jain" and in "Ajaykumar singh
& ors vs State of Bihar" (1994) opined in favour of reservation in higher studies and professional courses and has stated that, the guarantee of quality lies in everybody passing the same final examination. The quality is guaranteed at the exit stage. Therefore, at the admission stage even if students of lower merit are admitted, this will not cause any detriment to the standards.
In "Preeti Srivastava and Ors. vs. State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors". (1999) the court held that “at the level of higher post-graduate university education, apart from the individual self interest of the candidate, or the national interest in promoting equality, a more important national interest comes into play. The facilities for training or education at this level, by their very nature, are not available in abundance. It is essential in the national interest that these special facilities are made available to persons of high calibre possessing the highest degree of merit so that the nation can shape their exceptional talent that is capable of contributing towards the nation’s progress”.The merit criterion cannot be so diluted by the State as to affect the standards of higher education or professional education as this would make it difficult for the reserved category candidates to bring their performance on a par with general category candidates.
The tool for the elevation of the downtrodden sections of our society is now being used as a political tool, the special provision of the reservation is now being governed by the whims and fancies of the political parties. Few recent cases have shown the hustle of various state governments and various communities to include several unreserved caste or the entire community within the ambit of reserved category list, latest being the act of Maharashtra govt in the year 2019 which provided 16% of reservation to the Maratha community, this act of Maharashtra govt was repealed by Supreme court in Jaishri Laxmi Rao Patil vs the chief minister & ors case in the year 2021 as this law violates the 50% ceiling cap that was set up by the apex court in Indra Sawhney case. Other such cases on the demand for reservation are constantly raised by Jaats in Haryana, Gujjars in Rajasthan, and Patels in Gujrat.