Indira Sawhney & Ors. v. Union of India

COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice M Kania, Justice M Venkatachaliah, Justice SR Pandian, Justice T. Ahmedi, Justice K. Singh, Justice P. Sawant, Justice R. Sahai and Justice BJ Reddy


The concept of reservation in India consists of reserving seats for Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes in the educational institutions, government jobs and other fields due to the fact that they are unable to afford these services so, government with a motive to uplift these sections gives reservation in India. 

Earlier, Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Caste, and Other Backward Classes were treated as untouchables due to which they were unable to develop themselves in India. So, by giving reservations, this section will be uplifted and will be able to enjoy equal rights as that of the general category. The issue of reservation is an important issue in India and in this case we will be dealing with Clause 4 of the Article 16 of the Indian Constitution which states that nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.[1]


The facts of the case are as follows: On January 1, 1979, the second Backward Classes commission with respect to Article 340 of the constitution was constituted. This was designated by the Government headed by PM Sri Morarji Desai and its main task was to research for the socially and educationally backward classes and to give measures for the progress of these classes and after almost one year i.e. December 1980 they gave their first report in which they said that 27% of the reservation in Government Jobs should be given to them.

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Janta Party collapsed after a while due to internal dissensions and so, the committee’s report was not implemented as the Congress Party headed by PM Smt. Indira Gandhi came into power. But again Janta Party came into the picture by defeating Congress Party in the year 1989 and implemented a commission report due to which there was panic in the country for around three months.

On October 1, 1990, Supreme Bar Association filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court regarding the 27% of reservation to socially and educationally backward classes. The bench of five judges was set-up and they issued a stay order till the time of final judgment.


The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether the Article 16(4) which has been inserted is an independent section?
  2. Whether Backward Classes in Article 16(4) and SEBCs in Article 15(4) similar or not?
  3. Whether the classification of Backward Classes will be on caste system or economic basis?
  4. Who will be eligible to make laws regarding Article 16(4)?
  5. Whether the classification involves the basis of Backward Classes or more Backward Classes and is this valid one?

Summary of court decision and judgment

In this case, a bench of 9 Judges of the Supreme Court gave their judgment in 6:3 ratios and answered all the issues. It clearly stated that in case of reservation, it should not be provided to the creamy layer of the society, and also this is treated as constitutional. It was also stated that Backward classes are to be identified on the basis of the case system, also that Article 16(4) is not the exception of the Article 16(1) and which is not similar to social and educationally backward and is stated in Article 15(4). 

The Court also pointed out that the reservation provided should not be more than 50% and if exceeded it should be after a proper justification and permission and reduced reservation in the Government sector to 10%. Also, backward classes cannot be classified into identification only and with reference to the economic criteria.

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The Court was also of the opinion that any dispute relating to this can be raised in the Supreme Court only and no promotion is involved in the case of reservation. It is valid to classify it on the basis of the Backward Classes and more backward classes and reservations can be made only after the execution order, not before that.


After analyzing the case, it is observed that the case is a landmark case and the court in this case has excellently described the scope of Article 16(4). Also, it is said that this Article has a very wide scope and is an independent article. The Court in this case has overruled two previous cases relating to the reservation which are Balaji vs. State of Mysore and Devdason vs. Union of India. The thorough observation has shown that the Apex Court has dealt with the issue so accurately and has answered all the questions. The court has rightly decided the case.


Reservation in India consists of reserving seats for Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Castes, and Other Backward Classes in the Educational Institutions, Government Jobs, and other fields due to the fact that they are unable to afford these services so, government with a motive to uplift these sections gives reservation in India. After this case there were three main impacts of this case, these are as follows; firstly reservation was valid for Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Caste, and Other Backward Classes with the object of uplifting these sections as these are unable to get these benefits. The second impact is that the reservation shall be restricted to 50% only not more than that and if this restriction is breached then a proper reason is to be furnished and should be given to the Central Government and the third impact is that it created a distinguishes between Creamy layer and other people who actually need this reservation to enjoy equal rights as that of other citizens.

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[1] Article 16, Constitution of India.

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