Reservation in India: Know everything about Reservation system in detail

8 Oct 2022  Read 47275 Views

As soon as India gained independence, reservations were incorporated into the constitution to acknowledge the historical injustice done to members of underprivileged groups and to put policies in place to give them better access to resources and opportunities.

In India, reservations were first implemented:

  • To make amends for historical wrongs committed against India’s lower classes

  • To guarantee that individuals from all castes are equally represented in the state- and federally-funded programs

  • To provide everyone with a level playing field regardless of caste

  • To uplift and improve the underprivileged groups

“Let us understand the whole concept of Reservation in detail. This article includes the provisions related to Reservations, a brief history, and some landmark cases.”

Reservation system in India

In India, reservations are a form of affirmative action that works to give a predetermined number of seats in social and educational institutions to various underrepresented communities. It is made in response to the discrimination by members of upper castes in India. As a result, when India won independence, the constitution included a clause requiring a certain community to have a certain level of representation in various sectors.

Caste reservation in India

Reservations under the Constitution for socially and economically disadvantaged groups are intended to give those members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes access to jobs and education.

Why is there a reservation in India?

The main aim of the Indian Constitution is to provide a certain level of security to the citizens of India regarding equality of status and opportunity and to promote all fraternities assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation (as stated in the preamble).

When did the SC ST reservation start in India? 

Reservation was a known concept in India for a very long period. Let’s know the history of reservations in India.

  • Reservation was there at the time when the Britishers ruled India.

  • It is generally thought of as who decides on a reservation in India. Originally, William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882 conceived the idea of a caste-based reservation system. When the Hunter Commission was established in 1882, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule urged that all citizens have free, mandatory education and government employment.

  • In 1902, a notification established 50% of service reservations for economically disadvantaged people in the state of Kolhapur. This was India's first notification establishing a reservation for the benefit of the country's underprivileged.

  • Reservation was instituted in 1908 in support of the castes and communities that participated in the administration under British rule.

  • The Morley Minto Reforms, also known as the Government of India Act of 1909, contained provisions made in 1909.

  • The Government of India Act of 1919 introduced provisions for reservation in 1919. 

  • A GO issued by the Madras Presidency in 1921 allocated 44% of reservations to non-Brahmins, 16% to Muslims, 16% to Anglo-Indian Christians, and 8% to Scheduled Castes.

  • The Government of India Act 1935 included provisions for the reservation in 1935.

  • Our Indian Constitution took effect on January 26, 1950.

  • Following independence, the Constituent Assembly, presided over by Dr BR Ambedkar, established the system of reservations. It was first made available for ten years. After ten years, Indian legislators recognized the necessity to retain the system of reservations in place to address decades of racial and cultural prejudice against particular groups in society.

Reservation under the Indian Constitution

With the enactment of the Indian Constitution, special provisions were enacted as Article 15 and Article 16 for the advancement of backward classes. 

"Equality may be a fiction, but nonetheless one must accept it as a governing principle"- Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Article 14 highlights the concept of equality before the law and equal protection of laws. The first is considered negative in nature because it denies special privileges in favour of an individual, whereas the concept of equal protection of laws states that individuals at equal levels should be treated equally. 

Article 15(4) provides a special provision for advancing any socially and educationally backward class of citizens or for the Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes. In order to ensure proper representation of marginalized groups like SCs, STs, and OBCs in educational institutions, public jobs, and the legislature, the state can use this to create special policies. 

Reservation Percentage in India

The reality of reservation in India - Reservation to the SCs, STs and OBCs in case of direct recruitment on an India basis by open competition is given at the rate of 15%, 7.5% and 27%, respectively. EWS category holds 10% reservation.

The State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan (1951) judgment led to the addition of this subsection (4) by the First Constitutional Amendment Act, 1951. Specifically, the Madras Government has reserved places in State engineering and medical institutes for various communities based on classes, religion, and race. This was challenged before the court as it violates Article 15 (1) of the Constitution. The state defended the law because it was created to advance social fairness for all community members, as required by the DPSP's Article 46. The SC held that the statute invalidates seat reservations based on race, religion, and caste (caste reservation in India) since it categorized students based on their castes, religions, and other factors rather than their academic ability. Clause (4) was inserted into Article 15 to mitigate the impact of the aforementioned SC judgment. This Article gives the STATE the authority to make specific provisions for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and for socially and educationally marginalized classes of citizens. Article 15(4) is merely an enabling clause; the state is not required to take any special action by it. If necessary, the state may make a reservation.

For making a reservation under clause (4) of Article 15, two elements are to be determined

1) Who are socially and educationally backward classes? 

2) What is the limit of reservation?

The First Backward Classes Commission was established in 1953 by the President of India per Article 340 of the constitution and was presided over by Kaka Kalelkar. The panel may recommend actions that the federal and state governments should take to ease the struggles of the socially and educationally underprivileged. 

On March 30, 1955, the Kaka Kalelkar Commission turned in its final report. It had compiled a list of some of the commission's recommendations, which were as follows:

  • Keeping a caste-based population count in the census of 1961.

  • Treating all women as a class and reserving 70% of places in all professional institutions for members of underprivileged groups.

  • Reserving OBC candidates for open positions in all local government positions and agencies

The commission's recommendation was not accepted by the chairman, Mr Kaka Kalelkar, because the report contained ambiguities. He opposed the commission's proposal in a letter to the president. However, the Central Government did not accept the Commission's report since it did not meet the requirements.

In M.R Balaji v. the State of Mysore (1962), an order was issued by the Mysore government under Article 15(4) reserving the seats in the medical and engineering colleges of the state as follows-

  1. Backwards and More backward classes, 50%

  2. Scheduled castes 15%, and 

  3. Scheduled tribes 3%. 

“Thus, a total of 68% of seats were reserved. The validity of this order was challenged by the candidates who didn’t get admission. The court held that sub-classification made by order between backward and more backward was not justified under Article 15 (4). It was also held that the ‘caste’ should not be the only basis for determining backwardness. ‘Backwardness’ must be social and educational, not social or educational.”

In 1979, the Janata Party Government declared a second backward classes commission, popularly known as the Mandal Commission, with its chairman Mr B.P. Mandal. The Commission adopted the following criteria for identifying the socially and educationally backward classes:

1. Social criteria, 

2. Educational criteria, and 

3. Economic criteria. 

The commission submitted its report in December 1980. It stated that the OBC population was around 52% of the total population of India, including Hindus and non-Hindus. The commission recommended a 27% reservation for the OBC. Long after the Mandal report was submitted, nothing was done in response to it. The commission primarily associated castes with underprivileged classes and largely disregarded the economic test.

Following the release of the Backward Class Commission's report, the SC was once more presented with the Vasant Kumar case (1985) when it came to classifying the backward classes. The SC judges unanimously decided that "caste" should not be the only factor in determining backwardness.

The Supreme Court made a key ruling in the Indira Sawhney v. UOI (1992), also known as the Mandal Commission case, regarding the issue of post-reservation for members of the underprivileged classes. The V.P. Singh government accepted the Mandal Commission's recommendation at the centre in 1990 and announced 27% reservation for socially and educationally disadvantaged sections for open positions in civil service and other government of India jobs. The memorandum was challenged before the SC and the nine judges took it into consideration. The main positive facet of the SC can be highlighted here- 

1. Overall reservation is limited to a maximum of 50% in a year. 

2. The creamy layer should be excluded from the backward class.

Article 16 (4) provides for the reservation of appointments and posts in favour of any backward class of citizens who, in the opinion of the state, are not adequately represented in the services under the state.

Article 16(4) is applied only when the following conditions are fulfilled:

  1. The class of citizens is backward

  2. The said class is not adequately represented in the services of the state.

In Devadasan v. UOI (1964), the SC considered the application of Article 16(4). In this case, the constitutional validity of the government's "carry forward rule", meant to control the hiring of members of underprivileged groups to public employment, was at stake. According to this rule, the open positions would be filled by fresh candidates who were available if there weren't enough candidates who belonged to the SC/ST group to fill the reserved quota. However, a corresponding number of posts would be reserved for SC/ST in the following year in addition to their reserved quota for that year. 

The "carry forward rule" was declared illegal by the court. However, the SC reversed the Devadasan case in the Mandal Commission case and stated that the "carry forward rule" is lawful as long as it does not exceed 50% of vacancies in a given year. The SC rendered the following ruling in this matter. 

a) The creamy layer needs to be removed from the lower classes,

b) Classification of backward groups into backward and more backward is permitted, unlike in the Balaji case.

c) Reservations cannot be made more than 50%

d) No reservation in Promotion

The government passed the Constitution 77th Amendment Act, 1995, to negate the "no reservation in promotion" point, and as a result, a new clause (4A) was added to Article 16.

Important Articles of the Constitution concerning Reserved Category

  • Article 15 (5) By the 93rd amendment,2006, the provision of Reservation for Backward, SC, and ST classes in private educational institutions has been added.

  • Article 16 (4B) The constitutional 81st Amendment Act of 2000 included Article 16 (4 B), which allows the state to fill the unfilled SC/ST-reserved vacancies of a year in the following year, erasing the requirement of a minimum of 50% reservation on the total number of vacancies of that year.

  • Article 39 A – Under Directive Principles of State Policy – States must ensure justice and free legal aid to Economically Backward Classes.

  • Article 341 gives the power to the President to notify which castes in the nation and specific states are to be considered Scheduled Castes.

  • Article 342 gives the power to the President to notify which castes in the nation and specific states are to be considered as Scheduled Tribes 

  • Article 342 A gives the power to the President to notify which castes in the nation and specific states are to be considered Backward Classes 

  • Article 338, 338 A, and 338 B mandate the creation of a National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Backward classes

  • Article 330 and 332 provide for specific reservation of SCs and STs in the Parliament and in the State Legislative Assembly 

  • Article 243D provides for reservation of seats in panchayat for SCs and STs

  • Article 233T provides for the reservation of seats in every municipality for SCs and STs

  • Article 335 states that to maintain the administration's effectiveness, the demands of SCs and STs must be taken into account.

  • The Constitution's Fifth Schedule specifies the rules for managing Scheduled areas. In states with Scheduled Tribes but without Scheduled Areas, it guarantees the creation of Tribes Advisory Councils with three-fourths representation from the local tribes.

  • The legislature introduced the new reservation in the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 2019. This amendment created a 10% reservation for the EWS or economically weaker sections of the society. It gives EWS preference for employment in the public sector and admittance to both public and private educational institutions.

Recent Landmark cases 

  1. Maratha Quota Case (2021)

According to a five-judge Supreme Court constitution bench, reservations beyond the 50% ceiling limit are unconstitutional. The Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, which extended reservation to the Maratha community in public education and employment in excess of the ceiling limit of 50% fixed by the Supreme Court earlier, was overturned by the bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, S. Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta, and S. Ravindra Bhat.

  1. Neil Aurelio Nunes and Ors v UOI and Ors (2021)

This landmark judgment on equality law changed the narrow definition of equality from "formal equality," or treating everyone equally, to "substantive equality," or equality in the distributive sense. The court expanded the definition of merit and held that it could not be judged solely based on a person's success in an open examination; rather, it must be considered in the context of "conditions and circumstances that prevent equal access to the enjoyment of basic rights or claims" to the underprivileged and underrepresented communities.


The reservation policy in India was designed as affirmative action to uplift marginalised groups, ensuring their inclusion in society. As we navigate the future, it is essential to strike a balance between social justice and maintaining a level playing field to ensure a fair and inclusive society without compromising effectiveness and merit.

About the Author: Gurpreet Kaur Dutta | 82 Post(s)

A legal content writer who pursued BBA-LL.B.(H) from Amity University Chhattisgarh. She has a keen interest in corporate and IPR sectors. 

Liked What You Just Read? Share this Post:

Finology Blog / Legal / Reservation in India: Know everything about Reservation system in detail

Wanna Share your Views on this? Comment here: