States must decide on SC/ST quota in promotions: Supreme Court

It holds ‘cadre’ as unit for collection of quantifiable data

January 28, 2022 11:35 am | Updated 11:00 pm IST - New Delhi

Supreme Court of India.

Supreme Court of India.

The Supreme Court on Friday, January 28, 2022,  refused to lay down the “yardstick” for determining the inadequacy of representation for granting reservation in promotions for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe candidates in government jobs. It held ‘cadre’ and not class, group or the entire service as the unit for purpose of collection of quantifiable data for giving promotion quotas.

The court stuck firm by its Constitution Benches decisions in Jarnail Singh and M. Nagaraj cases that the question of adequate representation of an SC/ST communities ought to be left to the respective States to determine.

“In the light of Jarnail Singh and Nagaraj, we cannot lay down any yardstick for determining the inadequacy of representation,” a Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao noted.

In respect of the unit of collection of quantifiable data, the court held that the State was “obligated to collect quantifiable data on the inadequacy of representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”

The court, however, noted that the “collection of information on inadequacy of representation of SC/ST communities cannot be with reference to the entire service or class/group, but should be relatable to the grade/category of posts to which the promotion is sought.”

The court held that “cadre” should be the unit for the purpose of collection of quantifiable data in relation to promotional posts. It said otherwise the entire exercise of reservation in promotions would be rendered meaningless if data pertaining to the representation of SCs and STs was done with reference to the entire service”.

Order set aside

With the recognition of ‘cadre’ as the unit for collection of quantifiable data, the court set aside its earlier judgment in the B.K. Pavithra case.

“As far as B.K. Pavithra case is concerned, we have held that the conclusion of this court approving the collection of data on the basis of groups and not cadres is contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Nagaraj and Jarnail Singh judgments,” Justice Rao pronounced.

The court further left it to the State to assess the inadequacy of the representation of SCs and STs for promotional posts by taking into account the relevant factors.

A review had to be conducted regarding the data for the purpose of determining the inadequacy of representation in promotions, the court ordered.

The court left it to the Union government to fix a “reasonable” time for the States to conduct the review.

Nagaraj judgment

The court held that the Nagaraj judgment would have “prospective effect.” In 2006, the court, in the order, upheld reservation in promotions.

The Nagaraj verdict had laid down three conditions for promotion of SCs and STs in public employment. The court held that the government cannot introduce quota in promotion for its SC/ST employees unless it proves that the particular community was backward, inadequately represented and providing reservation in promotion would not affect the overall efficiency of public administration. The opinion of the government should be based on quantifiable data.

Later in 2018, answering a reference on the correctness of the Nagaraj judgment, the Constitution Bench led by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had upheld the 2006 verdict upholding reservation in promotions and the application of ‘creamy layer’ concept to SC/STs. However Jarnail Singh modified the Nagaraj judgment to the extent that State need not produce quantifiable data to prove the “backwardness” of a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe community in order to provide quota in promotion in public employment.

The five-judge Bench judgment in the Jarnail Singh case in 2018 had given a huge fillip to the government’s efforts to provide “accelerated promotion with consequential seniority” for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) members in government services.

The court’s judgment on Friday came in a batch of petitions from across the country seeking further clarity on the modalities for granting reservation in promotion. They had argued that many appointments were stalled due to the ambiguities in the law. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal had argued in favour of reservation in promotion, saying that even 75 years of Independence has not been able to bring members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on par with the forward classes of society. Mr. Venugopal had said that it was still tough for a member of the SC/ST to reach the ‘Group A’ category jobs.

On Friday, Justice Rao said the court has not expressed any opinion regarding the merits of the individual cases before it, and had answered the “common issues” formulated in the issue.

It listed the individual petitions for hearing on February 24. The court said it would start with the petitions filed by the Centre.

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