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Q. Explain article 15(4) and 16(4) in light of various decisions by the judiciary?

The goal before the framers of the constitution was to provide equality in all respects to the citizens. To that end, they kept the "Right to Equality"  as the first among all fundamental rights. While art 14 gives a general principle of equality to be followed, art 15 and art 16 give specific examples that illustrate the concept of equality that the framers had in their mind, which was that "Like should be treated alike". In this context, Art 16 (4), which existed since the unamended constitution, allows the state to make any provision regarding the reservation of posts or appointments for backward classes which, in the opinion of the state, are not adequately represented in the services under the state. It is important to note that art 16(4) only talks about reservation in employment.  It does not talk about any other avenue such as reservation in educational institution.

However, art 46, which also existed since the beginning, implores the state to promote with special care the educational and economic interest of the weaker sections of the society, specially SCs and STs. On this ground the State of Madras reserved some seats in educational institutions for backward classes. This was challenged in the case of Champakam Dorairajan vs State of Madras 1951, in which SC held that such reservation discriminated based on caste, which is prohibited by art 15 (1). It held that art 46 cannot overbear on art 15 and so such a provision is unconstitutional.

Due to this decision, the constitution was amended for the first time and clause 15(4) was added to art 15. This clause says that no provision of Art 15 or 29 (2) shall prevent the state from making special provisions for socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for SCs and STs.  It allowed the states to provide reservation to backward classes in educational institutes as well.

This clause opened the floodgates of petitions and the courts have wavered on the interpretation of this clause in several cases. Part of the reason is that the constitution does not define precisely who are to be covered under "backward classes" and how much reservation can there be. However, under art 340, it allows the president to set up a commission to investigate into the condition of people in states and then classify them as backward as required. Further, art 335 says that special provisions for SC/STs should be taken into consideration, consistently with the efficiency of the services. Thus, the quality of administration could not be diluted.

The following are leading cases that have, from time to time, changed the course of reservations in India.

1. Balaji vs State of Mysore AIR 1963
In this case, SC held the following:
2. Devadason vs Union of India AIR 1964
In the case SC held the "carry forward rule" as unconstitutional. This rule meant that posts that could not be filled due to lack of candidates in backward classes would be filled by regular candidates but the same number of additional posts would be reserved in the next year.  This caused the amount of reservation to go above 50%. SC held that power of art 16(4) could not be used to deny equality of opportunity for non-backward people.

3.  State of Kerela vs N M Thomas AIR 1976
State of Kerala had given 2 yrs relaxation to SC/STs in passing certain test for promotion. SC held that such a relaxation is valid. It held that the relaxation does not cause reduction in the efficiency because such people will have to pass the test anyway. It further held that special provisions for SC/STs could be made even under 16(1) and not only under 16 (4). This is because the classification has a reasonable nexus with objective, which is the upliftment of backward classes.

4. A B S K Sangh (Rly) vs Union of India AIR 1981
Building upon the case of N M Thomas, SC upheld that reservation could be done even without 16(4) because art 16(1) has to be read in light of art 14, which permits classification based on intelligible differentia and a justifiable nexus with the objective.
It further held that "carry forward rule" is valid if the reservation does not become excessive. It held that exact mathematical calculation of 50% is not required in solving human problems but reservation should not be excessive. In this particular situation, 64.4% was not considered excessive. 50% limit was not a strict limit but only a guideline.

5. State of MP vs Nivedita Jain AIR 1981
In this case, SC held that complete relaxation of qualifying marks for SC/STs for admission in medical colleges is valid.

6. Indra Sawhney vs Union of India AIR 1993
The following points were held in this case:
Upon examining the philosophy behind art 14, in can said that art 15 does not go against the principle of equality. Art 15 gives specific examples on which discrimination is prohibited and it also list specific cases where a positive discrimination may be done to achieve social equality and social justice.