SC quota ruling reaffirms 50% ceiling for STs

SC quota ruling reaffirms 50% ceiling for STs

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The Supreme Court order last week which quashed a January 2000 order of the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh providing 100% reservation to Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates for the post of teachers in schools in the scheduled areas of the state is a reaffirmation of the 50% ceiling principle laid down by the court for reservations. A five-judge constitution bench held that providing 100% reservation is “unfair’’ and “unreasonable’’, “without rhyme and reason’’ and discriminatory because it denied employment opportunities to other candidates. The Governor of the then undivided state had reserved all teachers’ positions in the scheduled areas for ST candidates under Schedule V of the Constitution. The reasoning was that there was a high level of absenteeism among teachers who did not belong to the area. But the court observed that total reservation for STs denied opportunities to candidates belonging to SCs and OBCs from the same area and ST candidates from other areas. It also violated the 50% norm laid down by the court in the Indra Sawhney case. 

Some states have cited special circumstances and extraordinary situations to go beyond the ceiling many times in the past. The court said that there was no extraordinary situation warranting the Governor’s decision. The state government had issued similar orders in 1986 and when they were struck down by the administrative tribunal, it reissued them in 2000. The court observed that the power to modify rules conferred on governments under Schedule V was not relevant in the case because the notification had the effect of creating a new law which went against fundamental rights and accepted provisions on reservations. The court has, however, protected the appointments made under the order till now but has told the government not to take a similar decision again in future. 

The judgement has implications that go beyond the Andhra Pradesh appointments and that makes it important. Despite the existing ruling in the Indra Sawhney case, many states and even the Centre have breached the 50% ceiling on various pretexts. The Maharashtra government set apart 16% of governments jobs and seats in educational institutions for the Maratha community, and the Bombay High Court has upheld this, though it reduced the percentage. The matter is before the Supreme Court now. In some other states, the courts have disapproved the tampering of reservation norms. The central government has reserved 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections. With these and other such orders, reservations have exceeded the 50% ceiling in many states. Demands have been made in other states for grant of reservation for groups which do not enjoy the benefit now. The latest judgement will hopefully bring more clarity to the issue.