(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
(2) No citizen shall, on ground only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against In respect of any employment or office under the State.
(3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent Parliament from making any law prescribing in regard to a class or classes of employment or appointment to an office (under the Government of or any local or other authority within a State or Union territory, any requirement as to residence within that State or Union territory) prior to such employment or appointment.
(4) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments of posts in favor of any backward class of citizens, which in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.
(5) Nothing in this Article shall effect the operation of any law which provides that the incumbent of an office in connection with the affairs of any religious or denominational Institution or any member of the governing body thereof shall be a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a particular denomination.
Only three kinds of departure are permissible under Article 16:
(1) Residential preferences
(2) Reservation of posts for certain communities of backward classes under certain circumstances
(3) Offices connected with the management of religious denominational institutions being reserved only for members professing the faith connected with such institutions.
Clause (1) of Article 16 guarantees equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters of employment or appointment to any post under the State. Clause (2) of Article 16 provides that no citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State. Clauses (1) and (2) are general rules while clauses (3), (4), (4A), (4B) and (5) of Article 16 provide exceptions to the general rule of equality of opportunity.
What Article 16 guarantees is equality of opportunity in matters of appointment in State services. Equality of opportunity connotes that every citizen shall be eligible for employment or appointment to any office under the State according to his qualifications and capability, as held by the Supreme Court in State of J. & K. v. K.V.N.T. Khosla, AIR 1974 S.C. 1. Article 16 therefore does not prevent the State from prescribing the necessary qualifications and selective tests for recruitment of government services.
The selective test must not be arbitrary. In Pandurang Rao v. Andhra Pradesh Public Service Commission, AIR 1963 S.C. 268, the validity of rule prescribing that an applicant for the selection of District Munsif must at that time be practicing as an Advocate in Andhra Pradesh High Court, as challenged under Article 16.
The Supreme Court held that the rule is unconstitutional as there was no reasonable nexus between the qualification and the alleged object of an applicant possessing knowledge of local laws which could be acquired by any lawyer practicing in any court.
The expression “matters relating to employment”, shows that Article 16 is not confined to initial matters but also apply to matters subsequent to appointment as well. Article 16 is not violated by provisions for compulsory retirement to Government servants in public Interest.
In P.R Naidu v. Government of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1977 S.C. 854, the petitioners were retired compulsorily in public Interest. It was held that the provisions of compulsory retirement In public interest applies to all government servants, as Article 16 does not prohibit the prescription of reasonable rules for compulsory retirement.
Article 16 (4) is the second exception to the general rule embodied in Article 16(1) and (7). According to this provision, nothing in Article 16 shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointment or posts in favor of “any backward class of citizens” which In the opinion of the State is not adequately represented in the services under the State. Thus, Article 16(4) applies only if two conditions are satisfied:
(1) The class of citizens is backward; and
(2) The said class is not adequately represented in the services of the State.
The second test cannot be the sole criterion.
The scope of Article 16 (4) was considered by the Supreme Court in Devadasan v. Union of India, AIR 1964 S.C. 179. In this case “carry forward rule” made by the Government to regulate appointment of persons of backward classes in government services was involved.
The Supreme Court struck down the “carry forward rule” as unconstitutional on the ground that the power vested in the government cannot be so exercised so as to deny reasonable equality of opportunity in matters of public employment for the members of classes other than backward classes. In this case reservation of posts to the members of backward classes had exceeded 50% and had gone up to 68% due to “carry forward rule.”
The Supreme Court held that each year of recruitment must be considered by itself and the reservation for each year should not be excessive so as to create monopoly or Interfere unduly with the legitimate claims of the rest of the society. So the court held that reservation should be less than 50%, but how much less than 50% should depend upon the prevailing situations.
In K.C. Vasanth Kumar v. State of Karnataka, AIR 1985 S.C. 1495, the Supreme Court has suggested that the reservations in favor of backward classes must be based on mean test. It has been further suggested that the policy of reservations should be reviewed every five years or so and if a class has reached up to that level where it does not need reservation. Its name should be deleted from the list of backward classes.