Reservation in Promotions

Published: May 21, 2019

The Supreme Court has upheld the law of Karnataka which provides reservation in promotions in favour of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The court upheld the law which provides consequential seniority .i.e. a person promoted would also get seniority as a consequence.

Catch-up Rule

The Supreme Court in Virpal Chauhan (1995) held that once a general candidate is promoted, he would become senior to an already promoted SC/ST candidate if he/she had been senior in the lower cadre. This was termed the ‘catch-up’ rule. Again in the case of Ajit Singh in 1999 Supreme Court had held that a general employee will regain seniority over an earlier promoted SC/ST employee if the former is promoted prior to the latter to the next higher cadre.

Parliament intervened against the ruling in 2001, with the 85th Constitutional Amendment to provide consequential seniority. The amendment substituted the words ‘in matters of promotion to any class’ with the words ‘in matters of promotion, with consequential seniority, to any class’ in clause (4A) of Article 16 of the Constitution. Even the government of Karnataka enacted a law providing consequential seniority for SCs/STs promoted under reservation in promotions.

Both of these amendments were challenged in the case of M Nagraj. Even though the Supreme Court upheld both the amendments it rejected the argument that replacement of ‘catch-up rule’ with ‘consequential seniority rule’ as it violates the basic structure of the Constitution. The Supreme Court held that Article 16(4A) is just an enabling provision, and the state is not bound to provide for reservation in promotion, but if it wants to do so, it must meet the requirement of collection of quantifiable data on three aspects:

  • The backwardness of the class,
  • Inadequacy of representation
  • The general efficiency of services not to be affected.

Karnataka: Reservation in Promotions

In the case of BK Pavitra, the Supreme Court had struck down the Karnataka law since it did not comply with the above three conditions. The state then constituted the Ratna Prabha Committee which collected the data from 1984 to 2016 across 31 departments. The committee found that SC and STs constituted just 10.65% and 2.92% respectively of filled posts. Based on the report, the Karnataka government enacted a new law in 2018. The Presidential assent was also obtained.

The new law of Karnataka government was again questioned in the Supreme Court. While upholding the law the Supreme Court observed that the verdict in the case of BK Pavitra in no way stopped the government from providing reservation in promotion after complying with the Nagraj conditions, and held that the Karnataka law is not a brazen overruling of the Pavitra judgment.

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