SC: Merit can’t exclude equality and diversity

A meritorious candidate is not merely one who is talented or successful but also one whose appointment fulfils the constitutional goals of uplifting members of the SCs and STs and ensuring a diverse and representative administration, the Supreme Court said on Friday.

Upholding validity of the Karnataka reservation law, 2018, a bench of Justices U U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud said the constitutional goal of uplifting oppressed and marginalised sections of society and having a diverse administration would be undermined, if the appointments in government jobs were made of “talented” or “successful” persons in standardised examinations.

The top court referred to Articles 335, Articles 16 (4), and 46 of the Constitution to point out uplifting of the SCs and STs through employment in government services, and having an inclusive government were other outcomes that the process of appointments in government services sought to achieve.

“Unless special measures are adopted for the SCs and STs, the mandate of the Constitution for the consideration of their claim to appointment will remain illusory,” it said, referring to the Constitution as a transformative instrument.

Justice Chandrachud, who cited Amartya Sen’s article on “Merit and Justice,” said it was a “distorted understanding” of merit if one viewed the candidates who scored beyond a particular cut-off point are meritorious and others are non-meritorious.

“Our past will haunt the inability of our society to move away from being deeply unequal to one which was founded on liberty and fraternity, if the benchmark did not recognise the plurality and diversity of the nation,” the court cautioned.

“Our benchmarks will define our outcomes. If this benchmark of efficiency is grounded in exclusion, it will produce a pattern of governance which is skewed against the marginalised. If this benchmark of efficiency is grounded in equal access, our outcomes will reflect the commitment of the Constitution to produce a just social order,” the court said.

The court maintained that inclusion was inseparable from a well-governed society.

“There is, in our view, no antithesis between maintaining the efficiency of administration and considering the claims of the SCs and STs to appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State,” it said.

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