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Indra Sawhney Case Analysis, SC Judgements, Summary

Indra Sawhney Case

Indra Sawhney case year 1992, was a nine-judge bench case that the Indian judiciary set in stone. It is both fortunate and cursed, maybe to see forever the dynamic power play and friction of political opportunism, pro-reservation and anti-reservation emotions in India.

In the midst of widespread unrest and violent demonstrations against the implementation of the infamous Mandal Commission Report’s 27 per cent quota for the socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs) in all central government jobs and public institutions, this landmark case was the miracle child of Indian judicial pragmatism.

This article seeks to analyse this historic Indra Sawhney Case, which dates back three decades, in the service of progressive constitutionalism, subsequent Supreme Court precedents pertaining to reservations and the socio-political landscape of the present.

Read about: List of Chief Justice of India

Indra Sawhney Case Background

Kaka Kalelkar Commission

The First Backwards Class Commission, also known as the Kaka Kalelkar Commission, was established in 1953 in accordance with Article 340 of the Constitution of India (appointment of a commission to investigate the conditions of backward classes), but its 1955 report was essentially disregarded in 1961.

Mandal Commission

The Second Backwards Class Commission (Mandal Commission), established by the Janata Dal in January 1979 under the leadership of the then-prime minister Moraji Desai, published its final report in December 1980 with recommendations on how to advance SEBCs. In addition to the already-existing 22.5 per cent reservation for SCs and STs, this Mandal Commission Report advocated a government quota of 27 per cent for the SEBCs.

The Mandal Commission Report was put into practice under the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Congress government in 1991 with a few modifications, including the introduction of the economic criterion in the granting of reservations by giving preference to the poorer sections of the SEBCs within the proposed 27 per cent quota and a further 10 per cent reservation grant to the economically challenged sections of the population not benefiting from any reservation schemes.

There was widespread violence, and India continued to lose a lot of people and property. After a two-year battle in which the Supreme Court attempted to strike a balance between judicial pragmatism and political opportunism, all writ petitions contesting the application of the Mandal Commission Report were finally moved to itself on September 11th, 1990.

Indra Sawhney vs Union of India Case Argument in Support

The parties favoured the recommendation by the Mandal commission and stated that it was the saviour for the future upliftment of the unprivileged groups of the country which would help the backward classes to improve their social and economic status in society. The initial recommendation for the upliftment of the unprivileged group was made by the Kaka Kalelkar Committee, 1953 which was followed by the Mandal Commission.

Indra Sawhney vs Union of India Case Argument in Against

It was asserted that the quota system creates progressive and regressive social strata and feeds the evil caste system. This was exacerbating societal issues and fostering interpersonal enmity. The idea of a welfare state would not become a reality until everyone has equal possibilities. Giving reservations based on caste violated the constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity for all, and this violation of a person’s fundamental rights would be very detrimental to society’s growth.

Indra Sawhney vs Union of India SC Judgement

The major verdict was written by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy on behalf of himself and three of his brother judges, M.H. Kania J., M.N. Venkatachaliah J., and A.M. Ahmadi J. Justices P.B. Sawant and S. Ratnavel Pandian wrote concurring opinions. The dissenting view was offered by Justices Dr. T.K. Thommen, Kuldip Singh, and R.M. Sahai. This made up the majority decision. Therefore, subject to a few restrictions, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government’s decision to implement a 27 per cent quota for SEBCs based on the Mandal Commission Report was affirmed by a 6:3 majority ruling by the 9 bench judges and is portrayed as follows:

  • Scope & Extent of Articles 16(1) and 16(4): Supreme Court held that Article 16(4) is not an exception to Article 16(1) and it must be read along in the harmony with Article 16(1).
  • Exclusion of Creamy Layer: The advanced sections among the OBCs (the creamy layer) should be excluded from the list of beneficiaries of reservation.
  • Non-applicable to Promotions: Only initial appointments should be subject to reservations; promotions shouldn’t. Any reservations made for promotions can only be kept for a total of five years (i.e., up to 1997).
  • Reserved Quota: Except in rare circumstances, the overall reserved quota shouldn’t be higher than 50%. Every year, this regulation should be followed.
  • Carry Forward Rule: The ‘carry forward rule’ in case of unfilled (backlog) vacancies is valid. But the criteria of 50% rule should not be violated in any case.
  • Statutory Body: A permanent statutory body should be established to examine complaints of over-inclusion and under-inclusion in the list of OBCs.

Read More: Article 15 of Indian Constitution

Indra Sawhney vs Union of India Government Steps

With regard to the above rulings given by the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney Case, the government of India has taken the following steps:

  • Ram Nandan Committee: For the identification of the creamy layer among the OBCs, Ram Nandan Committee was appointed. In 1993 the committee submitted the report, which was accepted by the government.
  • National Commission for Backward Classes: The National Commission for Backward Classes was established in 1993 through a Parliamentary statute. Its task was to investigate complaints of the under-, over-, or non-inclusion of any class of residents in the list of economically disadvantaged groups for the purpose of job reservation. The 102nd Amendment Act of 2018 gave the commission a constitutional status and expanded its duties. The amendment added a new Article 338-B to the constitution for this reason.
  • Reservation in Promotions: In 1995, the 77th Amendment Act was passed to overturn the decision regarding reservations in promotions. Later, with retroactive effect from June 1995, the 85th Amendment Act of 2001 provided for “consequential seniority” in the case of promotion by virtue of the rule of reservation for the government employees belonging to the SCs and STs.
  • Provision for Backlog Vacancies: The 81st Amendment Act of 2000 was also passed to overturn the decision about backlog vacancies. Another new provision was introduced to Article 16 by the 81st Amendment Act, which gives the State the authority to treat any unfilled reserved vacancies from one year as a different class of vacancies that must be filled in the next year or years. As a result, the 50% cap on reservations for backlog vacancies was lifted.
  • Tamil Nadu Reservation Act: The 76th Amendment Act of 1994 has placed the Tamil Nadu Reservations Act of 1994 in the Ninth Schedule to protect it from judicial review as it exceeds the 50 % ceiling.  Tamil Nadu provides a reservation of 50% to the OBCs, 18% to the SCs & 1 % to the STs, making the total reservation to be 69%.

Read More: Article 16 of Indian Constitution

Indra Sawhney Case Summary

In the Indra Sawhney case, the court made an attempt to find an appropriate solution that maintains a fine balance between society and the rights of the underprivileged/backward classes. The only issue at hand was the Supreme Court’s ruling on the legitimacy of the Mandal Commission Report. In reality, the Apex Court was tasked with making a lot of complex decisions that had broad implications. The following categories can be used to group the significant problems in this historic case:

  • Application and scope of Articles 16(1) and 16(4).
  • Exclusion of creamy layer
  • Reserved quota and carry forward rule
  • Non-applicable to promotions

Read More: Article 14 of Indian Constitution

Indra Sawhney Case UPSC

Due to The Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment Act of 2018), the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) has legal standing. The backward strata of people are being uplifted by numerous government agencies and NGOs. However, it seems that the aforementioned questions are purposefully being left unaddressed. Even though our constitutional values have improved overall, there are still many villages in India where people will ask about caste before speaking, and there have been numerous instances of caste-based violence where members of the underprivileged classes have been beaten until they are blue in the face.

The tale of two India has continued even after thirty years after Indra Sawhney’s Judgement. On one side, there are supposed reverse discrimination victims who harbour anti-reservation attitudes, and on the other, Dalit beatings continue. On one side, there is judicial pragmatism, and on the other, there is political opportunism. Is caste-based discrimination in India too pervasive a societal stigma to ever be eradicated? India of the future could serve as an example where people are only recognised for their job and not for their caste. Let political opportunism refrain from turning this dream into one that is purely functional.

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What was Indra Sawhney case?

It is also called the Mandal case of 1992 in which the implementation of Mandal commission report was challenged.

What was Indra Sawhney judgement?

In this case the SC upheld the recommendation of Mandal commission of 27% reservation for OBCs.

When was National Commission for Backward Classes established?

Parliament by National Commission for Backward Classes Act in 1993 established National Commission for Backward Classes was established in 1993.

When National Commission for Backward Classes got constitutional status?

The 102nd amendment Act of 2018 conferred a constitutional status on the commission and also enlarged its functions. For this purpose, the amendment inserted a new Article 338-B in the constitution.

What was the purpose of Ram Nandan committee?

For the identification of the creamy layer among the OBCs, Ram Nandan Committee was appointed. It submitted its report in 1993, which was accepted.

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