Supreme Court redefines merit in the case of reservations in promotions of SCs & STs
The latest judgement of the Supreme Court has ruled that merit cannot be measured only in terms of marks secured in an examination. But it has added a new dimension by saying that merit and diversity have to be counted together in reservations for the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in government service.
The division bench of Justices UU Lalit and DY Chandrachud has dealt with the question of reservation in promotions in Karnataka in a verdict which is expected to have far-reaching implications socially, administratively and politically.
For one, it is bound to be replicated by other states from where petitions are pending before the same court as well as High Courts on this critical question: whether the reservation policy should be followed in promotions as well.
“This is the first verdict in more than 50 years that has given a ray of hope to the Dalits and the Backwards. It has redefined merit and included diversity also as the basis. More importantly, it has ruled that empirical data is required to prove that reservation policy does not provide efficiency in administration,” Ravi Verma Kumar, former chairman of the Karnataka backward classes commission, told The Lede.
Kumar said that right from 1963, every judgement had struck down reservation in promotions on the ground that it affects efficiency of administration “without an iota of material to prove that efficiency in administration suffered due to the appointment of Dalits.”
The latest judgement has upheld the report of then additional Chief Secretary of Karnataka, Ratna Prabha, that established inadequacy of representation of the SC and ST communities in government service but also proved that efficiency in administration had not been affected by members of those communities.
“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 marginalized. 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. Other wise our past will haunt the inability of our society to move away from ring deeply unequal to one which is founded in liberty and fraternity. Hence, while interpreting Article 335, it is necessary to liberate the concept of efficiency from a one sided approach which ignores the need for and the positive effects of the inclusion of diverse segments of society in the efficiency of administration of the Union or of a State. Establishing the position of the SCs and STs as worthy participants in affairs of governance is intrinsic to an equal citizenship. Equal citizenship recognizes governance which is inclusive but also ensures that those segment of our society which suffered a history of prejudice, discrimination and oppress ion have a real voice in governance. Since inclusion is inseparable from a well governed society, there is, in our view, non anti thesis 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.”
The judgement written by Justice Chandrachud said
The Committee was asked to submit its report within one month of its constitution. The committee looked at untouchability, atrocities, type of households they lived in, literacy levels, land holdings, number of agricultural labourers, details of employment from 1962 to 2016, representation in trade and industry and the number of people below poverty line apart from the slum population.
“We also looked at the inadequacy in representation in various departments of the government. We looked at 31 departments and found Scheduled Castes formed just 10.65 per cent of the total staff strength of the government. In the case of Scheduled Tribes, it was 2.92 per cent when the total quota was 3 per cent for the STs and 15 per cent for the SCs,” Ratna Prabha said.
For efficiency levels in administration, the committee relied upon the extent of economic development in the state. “The positive aspect of the administration in Karnataka has been reflected in the development of the state. If there was no administrative efficiency, the state would not have progressed to be number one in financial reforms, and rise in various facets of development. We cannot say efficiency has come down because of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes,” she said.
“Yes, there will be some amount of frustration but the effort of the government will be to ensure that those who were promoted, largely from communities other than the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, are accommodated as much as possible rather than them being demoted,’’ a senior cabinet minister who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.