Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta

Citation – Special Leave Petition (Civil) No.30621 of 2011

 Bench – R.F. Nariman

Date – 26 September, 2018

 Facts of the Case

In the matter of M. Nagraj and Others vs. Union of India and Others, a decision was reached in 2006 that was challenged by numerous states and the Centre. According to the petitioner, the Nagraj decision had made it unjustly difficult to award reservations in government posts and public sector promotions. With this in mind, it was deemed appropriate to examine the circumstances in the Nagraj case and submit it to a seven-judge panel. In India, reservation is regarded as a severe issue. Article 16 of the constitution provides for equality of opportunity in terms of public employment, but until the Indra Sawhney case in 1992, this clause did not contain anything linked to the reservation. In this situation, a few observations were made, beginning with Article 16 (4), which authorises the state to create measures for the reserve of any backward class of persons in appointments or offices, but not in promotions. This had a significant impact on the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and in order to keep the promotions going, Clause 4A was added, which said that nothing in the mentioned article prevents the State from making any reservation in matters pertaining to the promotion. Articles 16(4A) and 16(4B) were added by the 81st Amendment.

The constitutional validity of these provisions was challenged in the Nagraj Case, with a five-judge bench ruling that if the State wanted to make a provision for reservation in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, it would have to collect “quantifiable data” sufficient to show the class’s backwardness and inadequacy of representation in public employment. The state must also ensure that the reserve provision does not, in any case, exceed the 50 percent ceiling limit or wipe away the creamy layer. The requirement to acquire quantitative data to demonstrate backwardness was deemed illegal since it contradicted the Indira Sawhney decision. Even the application of the creamy layer to Scheduled castes and tribes seemed odd, given that it was only applied to the other backward classes. The introduction of the creamy layer idea to promotions also generated issues of equality. Finally, a petition to review the Nagraj decision was filed.

Issues

Whether the Nagraj Judgement needed reconsideration by a seven-judge bench.

The second issue questioned whether the States had to collect quantifiable data to prove the backwardness and inadequacy of the class while being promoted.

The third issue was whether the creamy layer among the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes should be barred from obtaining promotions through the reservation

Arguments

In the current case of Jarnail Singh, the Supreme Court refused to have the Nagraj ruling reconsidered by a seven-judge bench and instead had the verdict reviewed by a five-judge court. It did not believe that the terms of the Nagraj case needed to be reviewed by a bigger court.

According to the Nagraj Verdict, in order to make a provision for the promotion of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in employment and posts through reservation, the states required to collect measurable data to show that they were underrepresented in the public sector.

The Attorney General of India, KK Venugopal, contended that the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes were ‘backwards’ in character, socially and economically excluded, as stated in the Indian constitution. This means that there are no more examinations that may be used to prove their class’s backwardness and inadequacy. Those in favour of gathering measurable data pointed out that when it comes to gaining a promotion, people will go to great lengths, therefore keeping an eye on a person’s backwardness was only the correct thing to do. Furthermore, it did not jeopardise anyone’s integrity or cause any loss; rather, it served as a double-check. They also considered data gathering as a government responsibility, which being removed would show that the government was just interested in reducing its own burdens.

The Indra Sawhney case, according to Justice Nariman, does not allow for the collection of quantifiable data as a requirement for giving promotions under reservation, and the Nagraj decision contradicts a nine-judge bench’s ruling.

In the case of Jarnail Singh, the court interpreted Article 14, 15 and 16 to include the concept of the creamy layer as part of the equality principle. Some arguments were given in support of this equality, the first of which being that the fundamental essence of a backward class was to exclude the socially and economically advanced persons. Second, it was determined that the creamy layer must be excluded in order to ensure that the truly backward members of the class have access to reservations and that the creamy layer does not have exclusive access to all reservation benefits. Third, if the creamy layer is not excluded, it will violate the equality principles by treating equals differently, such as the general classes and those who are forward among the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, while treating unequals in the same way, such as the backward classes and those who are forward among the backward classes.

The entire aim of reservation, according to Justice Nariman, is to provide the backward classes a chance to advance so that they might be on an equal footing with the rest of India’s residents. If the creamy layer folks are included in this reservation, the backward classes will likely remain backward since they will have little opportunities in front of the advanced backward layer of people. He further pointed out that individuals who are classified as creamy layer are not eligible for reservation benefits because they do not belong to the backward classes.

Another argument was made based on the idea that applying the creamy layer principle to Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes is a significant risk that the court is ready to take. It’s critical to grasp the distinctions between the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the other backward classes. A constitutional court cannot overlook these factors, and it must remember that equality is a fundamental principle that must be protected at all costs.

Those in favour of the inclusion of the creamy layer argue that the truly backward will still be able to benefit from reservation in promotions after the creamy layer is included because, in terms of promotions, all Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes fall into the same economic bracket at a certain level of employment. As a result, the violation of equality argument only works at the entry level, not at further levels. It’s possible that excluding the creamy layer will only benefit the general classes. Because India has a history of workplace discrimination, where Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are not considered worthy, all backward groups, especially those from the creamy layer, can be given a chance to prove their merit in front of the general classes.

Judgement

The court decided that the Nagraj case’s decision did not need to be forwarded to a seven-judge panel. Furthermore, the requirement that the State collect quantifiable data demonstrating the backwardness of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is in conflict with the nine-judge Bench’s decision in the Indra Sawhney case, rendering this clause null and void. In the Indra Sawhney case, it was also demonstrated that any discussion of the “creamy layer” has no bearing on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In addition, the Supreme Court upheld the Nagraj Judgement’s application of the creamy layer to promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Thousands of employees had been denied their due promotions as a result of it.

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