Further, Article 16 (4) of the Constitution provides,
“Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments 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.”
The expression “Backward Classes” In Article 16 (4) has been used in the same sense as in Article 15 (4). The Supreme Court has considered the meaning and scope of the expression in a number of cases. Article 15(4) provides special provisions for admission to the candidates of backward classes in educational institutions.
This provision was added by Constitution (Amendment) Act, 1951, as a result of decision in State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan, AIR 1951 S.C. 236. Similarly, Article 16(4) provides for special provisions in favor of candidates of the backward classes for employment in State services. These two provisions are in the nature of reservation for the benefit of persons of Backward Classes.
In M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore, AIR 1963 S.C. 643, the Supreme Court has held that the caste of a person cannot be the sole criteria for ascertaining whether a particular class Is backward or not. Poverty, occupation, place of habitation may all be relevant factors to be taken into consideration.
In this case, the Mysore Government had issued an order under Article 15 (4) reserving seats in Medical & Engineering Colleges in the State up to 68% to the members of backward castes, more backward castes and scheduled castes and tribes.
Only 32% seats were to be filled on merit basis. The court held that Article 15 (4) enables the State to make special provisions but not exclusive provisions for the members of the backward classes. The State would not be justified in ignoring altogether advancement of the rest of the society in its zeal to promote the welfare of backward classes.
National interest would suffer if qualified and competent students were excluded from admission in institutions of higher education. The Court said that the special provisions should be less than 50%. But how much less than 50% would depend upon the relevant prevailing circumstances In each case.
In M.R. Bcdaji’s case the Supreme Court had held that Article 15(4) does not speak of “castes” but only speaks of “classes”, and “castes” and “classes” are not synonymous. Clause (4) of Article 15 only enables the State to make special provision and not exclusive provision for the backward classes. The court held the special provision should be less than 50%. But how much less than 50% would depend upon the relevant prevailing circumstances of the case.
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 the constitutional validity of the “carry forward rule” framed by the Government to regulate appointment of persons of backward classes in Government services was involved.
This rule provided that if sufficient number of candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, were not available for appointment to the reserved quota, the vacancies which remained unfulfilled, would be carried forward for the second and third year for appointment of those candidates.
In actual effect 68% of the vacancies were reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates. The Supreme Court struck down “The carry forward rule” by a majority of 4 to 1 as unconstitutional as the power vested in the Government under Article 16 (4) could not be exercised so as to deny reasonable opportunity of public employment to members of other classes than backward classes. Accordingly, the Court held that the reservation should be less than 50% but how much less than 50% would depend upon the prevailing circumstances in each case.
These above judgments of the Supreme Court, have been impliedly overruled by the rulings contained in the famous cases of State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas, AIR 1976 S.C. 490 and Akhil Bhartiya Shoshit Karmchari Singh v. Union of India AIR 1981 S.C. 298. First we take up the case of the State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas; In this case the important question that arose for consideration was whether it was permissible to give preferential treatment to S.Cs. and S.Ts. under clause (1) of Article 16, that is, outside the exception clause (4) of Article 16.
Kerala Government exempted for a period of two years the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for passing the departmental test while promoting them from lower division clerks to upper division clerks. This exemption was challenged as discriminatory under Article 16 (1). The Supreme Court by a majority of 5 to 2 held that the classification of employees belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for allowing them to pass promotion tests within an extended period of two years after their promotion in higher post was just and reasonable having rational nexus to the object of providing equal opportunities for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to the public office.”
The temporary relaxation of test-qualification made in favor of the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was warranted in the services in view of their overall backwardness. The rules and the orders were, therefore, not volatile of Articles 14 and 16 and were held valid. This is a new interpretation of Article 16 (1) of the Constitution.
Following the decision of Thomas case, the Supreme Court upheld in Akhil Bhartiya Shosit Karmchari Singh v. Union of India, AIR 1981 S.C. 298, the validity of Railway Board circular under which reservations for more than 50% posts were made in Selection posts for the candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The Court held that under Article 16 (1) itself the State might classify groups or classes based on substantial differential. So the fundamental right to equality of opportunity has to be read as justifying to the categories of S.Cs and S.Ts. separately from the rest of the community for the purpose of adequate representation in the service under the State.
Thus, the classification of S.Cs. and S.Ts. candidates from the rest of the communities for the purpose of reservation is just and reasonable because they constitute a class by themselves because of their social backwardness. As a result of “carry forward rule”, the reservation quota in this case came to be 64.4% but the court held that this was not excessive as mathematical provision could not be applied in dealing with
The majority decision thus permits reservation beyond 50% but subject to judicial approval. In the present case the court held that reservation up to 64.4% was not excessive. As a result of the decisions of Supreme Court in Thomas and Akhil Bhartiya Shosit Karmchari Sangh cases, the decisions in Balaji and Devadasan cases, have therefore been impliedly overruled.