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Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh v. UOI


Citation   AIR 1981 SC 298

Court   Supreme Court of India

Writ Petition No.  1041-1044 of 1980

Date of Judgment   14.11.1980

Bench      Hon’ble Judges  O. Chinnapa Reddy, R.S. Pathak and VR Krishna Iyer, JJ

Acts Referred  Constitution of India

Sections   Articles 16(1), 16(4), & 335 of the Constitution of India

Disposition  Petition Dismissed

Ratio Decidendi

“Equality of opportunity admits discrimination with reason and prohibits discrimination without reason, for differential treatment having nexus to Constitutionally permissible object.”


India’s First President Dr Rajendra Prasad assured the nation that the aim of the assembly & the Government is to end the poverty, to abolish exploitation and to ensure decent living conditions.

Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution of India[1] talks about one of the Fundamentals Rights that is guaranteed to all the citizens of the country. Article 16 of the Constitution deals with the concept of Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.

The Constitution of India has given a comprehensive interpretation of this Article. Equal opportunity is considered to be a term, having different definitions, and there is no consensus as to the precise meaning of the Article. The main aim of providing the reservation to the people of schedule caste and schedule tribe and other backwards classes by the government and various state government is to give them proportionate opportunities. The reservation is put in place to aggrandize the social diversity in workplaces as well as in various campuses.

Dr Ambedkar stated that the report of the minority’s committee provided that all minorities should have two benefits or privileges, namely representation in the legislatures and representation in the services.

Facts of the Case

As for the initial recruitment & later promotion to classes 2, 3 and 4, the railway administration provided reservation of certain percentage of vacancies for the candidates belonging to the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste. After the formation of special provisions, the intake of members of these communities was negligible in the railway services. It was just as same as the condition before all these provisions. Subsequently, more and more relaxations were offered from time to time to candidates belonging to the Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes. The Railway Administration took major steps for them. The administration introduced the policy of “Carry forward”, to keep the reserved vacancies open for this community at least for three more years.

The Ministry of Home Affairs issued a policy under which Railway board issued various directives to protect and promote the interest of the members of the Scheduled caste and scheduled tribes for the matter of Employment in Railway Administration.

After that, the Railway Board authorized their recruiting bodies to slur over low places obtained by SC & ST candidates except for those places where the minimum standard necessary for the maintenance of efficiency of administration has not been reached. For this, the appointed authorities were directed to give additional coaching and boarding to the recruits of ST and SC. So they can come up as par with the other recruits appointed along with them.

Railway Board in case of selection posts decided that promotions from class 4 to class 3 and from class 3 to class 2 are direct recruitment & reservation for ST & SC should be provided as indirect recruitment. Again in 1969, the railway Board further revised their policy and held that in case of promotion by selection from class 3 to class 2, if any member of ST & SC are within the zone of Eligibility, they would be given one grading higher than the grading that would be assigned to him.

In 1970, the percentage of vacancies reserved for SC and ST were raised from 121/2% and 5 to 15% and 71/2% respectively. In 1973, the Railway Board further directed that if the number of Candidates of Schedule caste and schedule tribe fell short for being placed on the panel despite various relaxation provided to them. Whoever among them secure maximum marks should be placed on the panel to the extent vacancies had been reserved in their favour. The one who is earmarked might promote ad hoc for six months. Even the administration is asked to provide facilities to the candidate for improving their knowledge and coming up to the requisite standard.

Further modifications were made by Annexure ‘O’ in the existing rule which stated that reservations in posts filled by promotion would be applicable to all grades or services under the current scheme, where the element of direct recruitment does not exceed 66 ⅔ % as against 50% at present.

An appeal was filed by the petitioner, against various issues of reservation and carry forward rule. He contended that the ST & SC are ‘ castes’ and cannot claim preference qua castes unless they are saved explicitly by Article 16(4), which talks about “class” and not “castes” and Article 16(4) should not be applied to promotional levels.

Issues Raised

Relevant provisions

Article 16 of the Constitution of India

Under Article 16(2) issues were raised that whether Schedule caste and tribes are castes within the meaning of Article 16(2). It states that:

(1) There shall be Equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.

(3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent Parliament from making any law prescribing, about a class or classes of employment or appointment to an office under the Government of, or any local or other authority within, a State or Union territory, any requirement as to residence within that State or Union territory before such employment or appointment.

(4) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.

(4A) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion, with consequential seniority, to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State.

(4B) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from considering any unfilled vacancies of a year which are reserved for being filled up in that year under any provision for reservation made under clause (4) or clause (4A) as a separate class of vacancies to be filled up in any succeeding year or years and such class of vacancies shall not be considered together with the vacancies of the year in which they are being filled up for determining the ceiling of fifty per cent reservation on the total number of vacancies of that year.

(5) Nothing in this Article shall affect the operation of any law which provides that the incumbent of an office in connection with the affairs of any religious or denominational institution or any member of the governing body thereof shall be a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a particular denomination.

Article 335 of the Constitution of India

The claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.

Provided that nothing in this Article shall prevent in making of any provision in favour of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes for relaxation in qualifying marks in any examination or lowering the standards of evaluation, for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of services or posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.

Article 46 of the Constitution of India

The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

Related Cases

M.R. Balaji vs State of Mysore[2]

In this case, the newly inserted Article 15(4) was examined by the Supreme Court. There was a governmental order issued by the State of Mysore, where backward classes were identified exclusively based on caste, this contention was under challenge in this case. The Five-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down this classification of State of Mysore and justified several reasons for it. The foremost reason provided by the Court was the Court’s interpretation of the words in Article 15(4) which was being “classes of citizens”, not as “castes of citizens”. The Court also held that the caste is inappropriate if the end goal is to eradicate caste itself.

Later a similar order was issued by the government where 68% of the seats were reserved in favour of medical and engineering colleges in favour of SEBCs, SCs and STs. The Government’s 68% reservation on college admissions was deemed excessive and unreasonable and was capped at 50% by order of the Supreme Court.

KC. Vasanth Kumar vs State of Karnataka[3]

In case the Supreme Court suggested that the reservation in favour of the backward classes must be based on the mean test. It has been further suggested by the Supreme Court that the policy of the reservation must be reviewed after every five years or so. The class which then reached up to the level that it doesn’t require a further reservation, their name should be deleted from the list of backward classes.

State of Madras vs Champakam Dorairajan[4]

In this case, a government order was passed according to which seats between various castes were apportioned according to their numerical strength for admission into government medical and engineering colleges in a prescribed ratio. The Supreme Court struck down the order for being a violation of Article 15(1) of the Constitution. The Court held that this government order solely relied on caste as an identifying factor, and this was considered to violate Article 15.

The decision, in this case, led to the introduction of the First Amendment to the Constitution in June 1951. Clause (4) in Article 15 along with the lines of Article 16(4) was inserted by the Parliament. Article 15(4) as it stand reads today as below –

“(4) Nothing in this article or clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes”.


The petition was dismissed as per the majority by Hon’ble Judges Krishna Iyer, Chinnapa Reddy, JJ and R.S Pathak.

On the argument that since the first petitioner was an unrecognized association, the petition was not sustainable and was overruled. It was held that whether the petitioner belonged to a recognized union or not if there are common grievances; hence they can approach the Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The Court set aside the objection and heard the contention of the petitioner.

The Court held that the law is in a well-settled position that the State may classify, based upon substantial differentia, classes or groups, and this process is not considered to be a violation of Article 14-16. So, if the Schedule caste and Schedule tribe stand on a substantially different footing and measures are taken to bring them equally, they may be classified group-wise and can be treated separately.

Article 16(2) expressly forbids discrimination on the grounds of caste. The question that arises here is whether SC & ST are “caste” within the meaning of Article 16(2). There are sufficient indications in the constitution to suggest that SC and ST are not mere castes. They may be considered as something less or something more and the time badge cannot be regarded as the fact that they belong to caste. Still, the circumstances are such that they belong to indescribably backward human groups.

Article 46 gives power to the State to promote the educational & economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and in particular of the Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribes. When Article 46 is read with article 16(4), it can be concluded that the exploited Harijan groups in the past shall be treated with special care by the State.

The positive impact of Article 335 is that the claims of such communities for equalization of representation in services under the State shall be taken into consideration. This is considered to be Socio-economic backwardness of a social bracket that is decisive and not merely birth in a caste.

It was held that the reservation is limited to a selected post and the reservation is not also excessive, and no relaxation of qualifications is written into the circular, except that the members of this community to be judged sympathetically. It was also concluded that the administrative efficiency was secured as there was a direction to provide such staff with additional training and coaching so that they can be brought at par with other members.

There was no unjust in giving them one grade higher because this concession is confined to only 25% of the total number of vacancies in a particular post filled in a year. They held that even in the “Carry forward” rule, there is no vice as these seats are specially reserved for them. The carryforward rule was upheld as it was held that this rule should not result in excess of 50% of a seat reserved for Schedule caste and schedule tribe in a year.

It was held that once the parameters of reservation are within the framework of fundamental rights, minute scrutiny of every administrative measure is not permissible.

The Court dismissed the appeal of the petitioner as per the majority and held that there is nothing unconstitutional or illegal in the impugned orders.


The slogan “Equality of opportunity” commands a very wide allegiance among the members of present-day society. The Equality of opportunity divides into various ideals, among them some of them being opposed rivals. The ideal of a society is in which the people do not suffer disadvantages from discrimination on various grounds of supposed ethnicity, race, sex, religion, is widely upheld as desirable.

The basic aim and object of providing reservation to the backward classes are to give a share in the state power to those people who have remained out due to various reason like economic, social and educational backwardness.

Nehru once quoted that “ We cannot have equality because in trying to attain equality we come up against some principles of equality”. This statement justified the concept of reservation for a backward class.



[2] AIR1963SC649

[3] 1985AIR1495

[4] 1951AIR226

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