In the last three decades, the discourse around caste-based reservations in India has taken a turn towards hostility. Proponents and opponents of reservations have regularly engaged in heated demonstrations and lobbying for their respective demands.

The Supreme Court, in Mahesh Kumar and Anr v. The State of Uttarakhand1, deals with question of reservations in promotions for disadvantaged groups in public services. The Apex Court opined that reservations for disadvantaged groups were not fundamental rights, and it would be well within the State's power to not reserve seats after using its discretion. The impact of reservations, as an enabling provision of the Constitution of India, has thus been diluted and left at the discretion of the State.


The controversy in the above judgment arises from the reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in promotions for the posts of Assistant Engineer (Civil) in the Public Works Department, Government of Uttarakhand. The Uttar Pradesh Public Services (Reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes) Act, 1994 ("the 1994 Act") provided for reservation in public services and posts in favour of persons belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. The Act provided for reservations at the stage of direct recruitment and for promotions. Government orders for appointments and promotions with regard to public posts in existence prior to the commencement of the 1994 Act would stand valid until modified or revoked. After the formation of the new state of Uttarakhand from Uttar Pradesh in 2001, the 1994 Act was made applicable to the State of Uttarakhand (erstwhile Uttaranchal) with a modification in the percentage of reservations. The original 21% reservation for Scheduled Castes was modified to 19%; the 2% reservation for Scheduled Tribes was increased to 4%. Likewise, the 21% reservation provided in the 1994 Act for Other Backward Classes was reduced to 14%.


The Supreme Court, relying upon Ajit Singh v. State of Punjab 2, opined that Article 16 (4) and Article 16 (4-A) of the Constitution were in the nature enabling provisions, where discretionary powers were vested with State Governments to consider providing reservations. It was reiterated that the state government could not be directed to provide reservations for appointment in public posts. Similarly, the state government was not bound to make reservations for Scheduled Caste and Schedule tribes in matter of promotions. However, if they were to make such provisions then they would have to collect quantifiable data showing the inadequacy of representation of that class in the public services. The inadequacy of representation was a matter within the subjective satisfaction of the state. The State could form its own opinion on the basis of the material it had in its possession, or it could gather such material through a commission, committee, person or authority.

The Supreme Court then proceeded to determine the correctness of the impugned judgments. It was held by the High Court of Uttarakhand that the Government of Uttarakhand had issued the notifications modifying the reservation percentages for the then operational reservation categories. A direction was issued by the High Court that, changes in reservations favoring Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes could be made by the Government without having quantifiable data showing said disadvantage. High Court, after an application for review, modified the judgment by holding that the State was obligated to collect quantifiable data regarding the inadequacy of representation of the Schedule caste and Schedule tribe in public service. The High Court observed that Article 16 (4) and 16 (4-A) of the constitution were enabling provisions, and the State Government was not obligated to provide for reservations in favour of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe. The High court of Uttarakhand then directed the Government to collect quantifiable data within four months. The Government appointed a committee for collection of quantifiable data pertaining to the adequacy of representation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes in public service employment. The committee submitted its report where it stated that the representation of Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes was inadequate. Subsequently, the State government decided to set aside all previous government orders relating to reservations of the promotion to government service in the state.

The Supreme Court expressed its opinion that there was no justifiable reason for High Court of Uttarakhand to declare the government proceeding illegal. The Apex Court stated that the State government could not be compelled to make reservations. There was no fundamental right that enables an individual to claim promotions. Collection of data was a prerequisite for providing reservations and was not required when the Government decided to remove reservations in promotions.

Therefore, the direction given by the High Court of Uttarakhand that the State Government should first collect data regarding the adequacy/inadequacy of the representation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes in government services even while reducing/removing reservations was contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court and accordingly was set aside. Additionally, in another judgment, the High Court of Uttarakhand opined that all future vacancies arising in a particular post should only be from the members of Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes. The Apex Court also found this unjustifiable and set aside the same.


It is settled law that the State cannot be directed to provide reservations for appointments in public service posts. Similarly, the State is not bound to make reservations for Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribe members in matter of promotions.


1. 2020 SCC OnLine SC 148

2. (1999) 7 SCC 209.

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