Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Upholding the validity of the Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act 2018, the bench of UU Lalit and Dr. DY Chandrachud, JJ held,

“The Reservation Act 2018 is a valid exercise of the enabling power conferred by Article 16 (4A) of the Constitution.”

Backdrop

The Reservation Act 2018 was preceded in time by the Karnataka Determination of Seniority of the Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of the Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act 2002 . The constitutional validity of the Reservation Act 2002 was challenged in B K Pavitra v Union of India, (2017) 4 SCC 620 wherein it was held that Sections 3 and 4 of the Reservation Act 2002 to be ultra vires Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution on the ground that an exercise for determining inadequacy of representation, backwardness and the impact on overall efficiency had not preceded the enactment of the law. Such an exercise was held to be mandated by the decision of a Constitution Bench of this Court in M Nagaraj v Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 212. The legislature in the State of Karnataka enacted the Reservation Act 2018 after this Court invalidated the Reservation Act 2002 in B K Pavitra I. The grievance of the petitioners is that the state legislature has virtually re-enacted the earlier legislation without curing its defects.

On whether the basis of the decision in B K Pavitra I has been cured

Holding that in adopting recourse to sampling methodologies, the Committee cannot be held to have acted arbitrarily, the Court said that the methodology which was adopted by the Ratna Prabha Committee has not been demonstrated to be alien to conventional social science methodologies.

It was hence, held,

“once an opinion has been formed by the State government on the basis of the report submitted by an expert committee which collected, collated and analysed relevant data, it is impossible for the Court to hold that the compelling reasons which Nagaraj requires the State to demonstrate have not been established. Even if there were to be some errors in data collection, that will not justify the invalidation of a law which the competent legislature was within its power to enact.”

On selection based on “merit”

On the assumption that awarding opportunities in government services based on “merit” results in an increase in administrative efficiency, the Court said,

“administrative efficiency is an outcome of the actions taken by officials after they have been appointed or promoted and is not tied to the selection method itself. The argument that one selection method produces officials capable of taking better actions than a second method must be empirically proven based on an evaluation of the outcomes produced by officials selected through both methods.”

The Court also said that the arguments that attack reservations on the grounds of efficiency equate “merit” with candidates who perform better than other candidates on seemingly “neutral” criteria, e.g. standardised examinations. Candidates who score beyond a particular “cut-off point” are considered “meritorious” and others are “non-meritorious”. However, this is a distorted understanding of the function “merit” plays in society. It, hence, said,

“the providing of reservations for SCs and the STs is not at odds with the principle of meritocracy. “Merit” must not be limited to narrow and inflexible criteria such as one‘s rank in a standardised exam, but rather must flow from the actions a society seeks to reward, including the promotion of equality in society and diversity in public administration.”

On the issue of creamy layer

Accepting the submission of the State of Karnataka that progression in a cadre based on promotion cannot be treated as the acquisition of creamy layer status, the Court held that the concept of creamy layer has no relevance to the grant of consequential seniority. It said,

“The Reservation Act 2018 adopts the principle that consequential seniority is not an additional benefit but a consequence of the promotion which is granted to the SCs and STs. In protecting consequential seniority as an incident of promotion, the Reservation Act 2018 constitutes an exercise of the enabling power conferred by Article 16 (4A).”

On retrospectivity of the Act

Sections 3 and 4 of the Reservation Act 2018 came into force on 17 June 1995. The other provisions came into force at once as provided in Section 1(2). Section 4 stipulates that the consequential seniority already granted to government servants belonging to the SCs and STs in accordance with the reservation order with effect from 27 April 1978 shall be valid and shall be protected.

The Court, hence, held,

“The object of the Reservation Act 2018 is to accord consequential seniority to promotees against roster points. In this view of the matter, we find no reason to hold that the provisions in regard to retrospectivity in the Ratna Prabha Committee report are either arbitrary or unconstitutional.”

Therefore, the benefit of consequential seniority has been extended from the date of the Reservation Order 1978 under which promotions based on reservation were accorded.

[BK Pavitra v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 694, decided on 10.05.2019]