One of the most polarizing debates in the Indian political discourse has been centred around the topic of “Reservations”. It was only last week when the Supreme Court asked the states to examine the policy of 50 percent limit that was established in the Indra Sawhney case. However, this rule has been long violated by multiple states, we would be analysing the conflict that arises out of the polarized opinions on this issue in a more nuanced manner, keeping the rhetoric hubris aside.
To understand the intricacies of this topic, we need to first look into the constitutional reasoning and backing that reservations hold. The framers of the constitution intended to balance the principles of equality, social justice and efficiency which was reiterated in Articles 14, 15(1), 16(1) and 29(2). Articles 15(4), 16(4), and 46 supported social justice and were exceptions to the general principles for equality, while on the other hand, Article 335 tried to balance social justice with efficiency. Therefore, the framers of the constitution very clearly intended to balance the principles of social justice, equality and efficiency. This intended balance has unfortunately not been maintained in the coming years as these provisions proved to be inadequate owing to the fact that the constitutional structure in 2021 has drastically changed from that in 1950. To understand this change we must go back to the First Amendment, where the tussle between the judiciary and the legislature began.
The First Amendment was the Parliament’s response to the Supreme court decision on the fact that a Directive Principle of State Policy could not override a Fundamental Right. The First Amendment invalidated this Supreme Court judgement and resolved to permit reservations in public education for SC’s, ST’s and educationally backward classes. This tussle was again observed in the 50 percent rule violation by the States. The Supreme Court, keeping in mind the problems of meritocracy and efficiency set the limit of 50 percent reservations in the Indra Sawhney case, however various states like Tamil Nadu had already violated the same.
The Parliament managed to put these laws in the Ninth Schedule, which basically is immune from Judicial Review. Now this clearly shows us how the Supreme Court has made various attempts to uphold the true essence of these reservation policies but has been met with serious impediments of conflict between the pillars of the constitution.
Although the Supreme court pushes for social justice, there has been a half- hearted attempt in doing so. The Courts have used the limitations of “efficiency of administration” in Article 335 in the name of upholding principles of meritocracy to invalidate reservations in public services that require “highest level of skill, intelligence and excellence”. The judiciary is also immune from any sorts of reservations too, upholding the above-mentioned principle. This clearly shows the kind of bias that the judiciary has while promoting social justice. This inconsistency is rather puzzling and raises the questions- Are only some jobs in the public sphere worthy of “efficiency in administration”? Is the judiciary not a public office as much as that of a bureaucrat?
I firmly believe that this constant tussle and inconsistency between the pillars of the constitution has given rise to the polarized opinions on this issue. The fact remains that reservations in the country have not managed to percolate to the very depth of the society to provide any kind of upward social mobility. Various questions of why the creamy layer only extends to the OBC’s or why there is no sub division in castes so that the actually disadvantaged might reap the benefits of the affirmative action, remain unanswered. The data relied upon by the parliament is surprisingly age old. There is a need to have more deliberation on this topic in the parliament itself which at various instances uses this policy for sheerly vote bank politics.
The Reservation Policy needs collaborative effort from all the pillars of the constitution for a way forward. To simply put it, it is high time that we claim to provide superficial support to the disadvantaged but in reality, make the very policy an instrument of discomfort for all sections of the society. I sincerely hope, that there is harmony between those who make the law, those who uphold the law and those who abide by the law. A collective effort to give this Chariot of Social mobility some strong wheels and direction is the need of the hour. We cannot simply sit idle when the road ahead seems to be rough and unpaved and our Chariot is pulled down for its loss of wheels.
Advait Nisal -Writer Bharat Bhagya Vidhata