The General Manager, Southern Railway v. Rangachari

Read this judgement to learn about the reservation system in India and how the Constitution Bench upheld the constitutionality of reservation in promotion.
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice P.B. Gajendragadkar, Justice A.K. Sarkar, Justice K.N. Wanchoo, Justice K.C. Das, Justice N. Ayyangar


Reservation in promotion was formally acknowledged in the constitutional text through Article 16(4A) in 1995.[1] Its constitutionality, however, was assailed as early as in 1962 in the case of General Manager, Southern Railway, Personnel Officer (Reservation) v. Rangachari, wherein the Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Apex Court by a marginal majority of 3:2 upheld the constitutionality of reservation in promotion by emphasizing on the expressions “matters relating to employment” in Article 16(1) and “in respect of any employment” used in Article 16(2) of the Constitution.


The facts of the case are as follows: In the instant case, the appeal stems out from the order of Madras High Court issuing a writ of mandamus under Article 226 of the Constitution retraining the appellants, the General Manager, Southern Railway, and the Personnel Officer (Reservation), Southern Railway, from giving effect to the two circulars issued by the Railway Board dated 27th April 27, 1959, and 12th June, 1959, whereby reservation of selection posts in Class III of the railway service in favor of the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and in particular the reservation of selection posts among the Court Inspectors in Class III one of which was held by the respondent was ordered with retrospective operation by avoiding reversion and making shot falls good against the existing and future vacancies.

It was averred by the respondent that the impugned circulars did not withstand the scrutiny of Article 16(4) as a bare reading of Articles 16, 335, 338 and 339 would show that the Constitution draws a clear distinction between Scheduled Castes or Tribes on the one hand and backward classes on the other hand. It was further alleged that the safeguard provided by Article 16(4) applied only to reservation of posts at the stage of appointment as against and at the stage of promotion. This was repelled by the appellant who pleaded the contrary.

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The Hon’ble High Court while opining that the “backward class” in Article 16(4) included members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes held that that the words appointments posts were virtually terms of art and had to construed in light of the legislative history of constitutional enactments and so understood meant the word post under Article 16(4) was confined to posts outside the civil services and thus the impugned circulars were not covered by Art. 16(4) and ergo were ultra vires. Aggrieved, the appeal was preferred to the Hon’ble Supreme Court.


The question of seminal importance before the Hon’ble Apex Court was whether the impugned circulars were ultra vires as the term post referred to in Article 16(4) are posts outside the cadre of services and in any case, do not include selection posts.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The Hon’ble Apex Court while allowing the appeal opined that impugned circulars did not invite the wrath of Article 16(4) and ergo were valid. In doing so, it was held that Articles 16(1) and 16(2) of the Constitution are intended to give effect to Article 14 and Article 15(1) of the Constitution as these Articles form parts of the same constitutional code of guarantees and supplement each other and ergo while construing their scope and ambit a technical or pedantic approach must be avoided. Thus, adopting a liberal interpretation of expressions matters relating to employment” in Article 16(1) and “in respect of any employment” used in Article 16(2) of the Constitution, it was held that in addition to initial matters prior to the act of employment all matters relating to appointment such as salary, pension, gratuity, promotion, etc would also fall be covered by the said expressions. Coming to Article 16(4), it was held that though in substance it is an exception to Articles 16(1) and 16(2) and should, therefore, be strictly construed, the court cannot in construing it overlook the extreme solicitude shown by the Constitution for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens. Thus, if the word post was given a narrow meaning as including ex cadre posts it would defeat the object and purpose of the Article 16(4) that is to cure the imbalance which according to the State is disclosed in the representation in services under it as it would be illogical and unreasonable to assume that for making the representation adequate in the services under the State power should be given to the State to reserve posts outside the cadre of services. Negativing the rationale of the High Court it was held that neither the provisions of the Constitution nor those of the Constitution Act of 1935 lend any justification for adopting such a narrow approach. Moreover, it was held that it is by the operation of the numerical and a qualitative test that the adequacy or otherwise of the representation of backward classes in any service has to be judged; and if that be so, then it would not be reasonable to hold that the inadequacy of representation can and must be cured only by reserving a proportionately higher percentage of appointments at the initial stage and ergo, a certain percentage of selection posts may also be reserved. In doing so, the Hon’ble Supreme Court pressed upon the need to strike a reasonable balance between the claims of backward classes and the claims of other employees as well as the important consideration of the efficiency of administration.

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The judgment delivered by the Hon’ble Apex Court in the instant case purports to lay down the nature and scope of Article 16(1) and 16(2) vis-à-vis Article 16(4) of the Constitution. While according to a liberal meaning to expressions “matters relating to employment” in Article 16(1) and “in respect of any employment” used in Article 16(2) of the Constitution as including all matters of employment whether initial or incidental, it was rightly opined that all the matters covered under Article 16(1) and (2) do not fall within the mischief of non-obstantive clause in Article 16(4).  Furthermore, though after referring to the context the intention of Article 16(4), need was felt to give a broad interpretation to the word posts under the said article, it was also urged that care must be taken to ensure that it is abused for creating monopolies or for unduly or illegitimately disturbing the legitimate interests of other employees.


The dicta of the Hon’ble Apex Court in the instant case upheld the constitutionality of reservation at promotional level. This was further reaffirmed in State of Punjab v. Hira Lal[2] and Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh (Railway) v. Union of India[3]. However, this interpretation was declared unconstitutional in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India[4]. To nullify the effect of this judgment, the Constitution (Seventy-Seventh Amendment) Act, 1995, was passed which introduced Article 16(4A), the vires of which was upheld by a 5 judge bench in M. Nagaraj v. Union of India.[5]         

[1] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 16(4-A) was inserted into the Constitution under the Constitution (Seventy-Seventh Amendment) Act, 1995.

[2] State of Punjab v. HiraLal, (1970) 3 SCC 567.

[3] Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh (Railway) v. Union of India,(1981) 1 SCC 246.

[4] Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 477.

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[5] M. Nagaraj v. Union of India,(2006) 8 SCC 212.