Quotas and reservations for promotions for government jobs is not a fundamental right, the Supreme Court said in a potentially key judgement delivered on Friday. The top court said it could not compel states to provide quotas and states could not be forced to make such provisions without data showing imbalance in representation of certain communities in public service.
In a verdict delivered on appeals on reservations for SC/ST community members in promotions to Assistant Engineer (Civil) posts in the Public Works Department of the Uttarakhand government, the court said “fundamental right” allows for such claims.
“There is no doubt the state government is not bound to make reservations. There is no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions. No mandamus can be issued by the court directing state governments to provide reservations,” a bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta said on February 7.
The Supreme Court’s judgement overturned a 2012 ruling by the Uttarakhand High Court that directed the state to provide quotas to specified communities.
At that time senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Colin Gonsalves and Dushyant Dave had argued the state had a duty to help SCs/STs under Articles 16(4) and 16(4-A) of the Constitution.
On Friday the top court pointed out that while these articles give power to make reservations, it did so only “if in the opinion of the state they are not adequately represented in the services of the state”.
“It is settled law the state cannot be directed to provide reservations for appointment in public posts. Similarly, state is not bound to make reservation for SCs/STs in matters of promotions,” the court said.
In saying reservation for appointment and promotion was a matter of discretion the court also cautioned that states had to justify decisions – to be taken on basis of quantifiable data – if those were to be challenged.
The issue of reservations is a contentious one, with a petition regarding halting of benefits for well-off members from SC/ST communities – the “creamy layer” – pending in the Supreme Court.
In 2018 a five-judge Constitution Bench said the “creamy layer” could not get benefits of reservation in government jobs. In December last year the centre requested a seven-judge bench to review this.