Reservation Policy in India and Reasonable Classification

It is an injustice to treat unequals as equals just as it is an injustice to treat equals as unequals-



Reservations have always been a heated matter, especially during elections. As the population of the country is increasing, the opportunities are decreasing. Reservation is discriminating between two candidates of equal caliber and preferring the one belonging to the reserved quota over the other.[i] The topic of reservation is an important socio-political issue. This is evident from the election campaigns of various political parties. With this more and more communities are demanding reservations. The questions regarding reservations are frequently being raised. This blog tries to clarify the status of reservations in India.


The root cause of the reservation policy in India is the age-old caste system. The concept of caste-based reservation was first devised by William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in the year 1882. The Communal Award of 1932 then introduced separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, and Europeans. After this, the Poona Pact was signed on 24th September 1932 between Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. Due to this agreement, separate electorates were abandoned and the reserved seats for the depressed classes were increased in the provincial and central legislatures. The reservation was provided only to the people belonging to SC’s and ST’s post-Independence. OBC’s were included in 1991, on the recommendation of the Mandal Commission.

Dr. Ambedkar on Reservation

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has played a vital role in the formation of the Constitution as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee and the first law minister of India. To understand the observation of Dr. Ambedkar on reservation we need to look forward to clause 6 of the Poona Pact. The sixth clause of this agreement provides that the reservation in the Central and provincial legislatures shall continue until the communities concerned, reach a mutual agreement. During the Constitutional assembly debates, he observed that there shall be firstly, equality of opportunity for all citizens. Secondly, there shall be reservations in favor of certain communities which have not so far had a proper look-in’ so to say into the administration. Further, he provided that the definition of backward class is to be left to the respective State government.

Reservations were originally provided for 10 years but this was subject to the progress of the depressed classes. There is no certain definition of progress of the depressed classes and the time limit in which this could be achieved.

Advantages of Reservation

The arguments which many people provide in the favor of reservation system in India are that it:

  • Tries to compensate for the injustice caused to such communities in the past.
  • Provides an equal opportunity to those people who have been deprived of opportunities for many years.
  • Minimizes the difference between different classes.
  • Has improved the quality of administration.

Disadvantages of Reservation

The arguments which many people provide against the reservation system in India are that:

  • Many people from these reserved classes have reached the administrative level and so the reservation policy should end.
  • Reservation does not address all social and educational backwardness. Other methods should be adopted to uplift the socially and economically weaker sections.
  • As the reservation system is getting deep into the system, the gap between the reserved and unreserved is increasing. Also, many people from even the upper castes are economically backward. So, the classification based on castes does not hold. 

Is reservation achieving its objective?

In India, reservation is provided to people belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. The main objective of reservations was to uplift the depressed classes of the society so that there is representation from all sections of the society. The Constitution of India also empowers the backward classes through articles 14, 15, and 16.

So, is the situation improved? Are people belonging to backward classes uplifted?

Although, the reservation has provided opportunities it has also led to intra-group differences. The situation cannot be said to be completely improved. This is evident from the case of the Lok Janshakti Party, where the family has found its place in the administrative positions. Still, the son, nephew of Ram Vilas Paswan were from reserved constituencies. Many such instances show that reservations have further increased inequality. 

Reservation as per the Indian Constitution

Article 14 of the Indian Constituion provides for the right to equality. This right provides that equals must be treated equally.[ii]  This right provides that people belonging to the same nature must be classified similarly and those having different needs need different treatment. The state guarantees the right to equality which provides a sense of security, equal protection of law to the people of India. 

In the case of D.S. Nakara v. Union of India Justice Desai observed that Article 14 permits reasonable classification and forbids class legislation. Further, in the landmark case of Mandal Commission, the Supreme Court observed that sub-classification of the backward classes as backward and more backward classes can be done under Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India as it empowers the state to make special provisions for the reservation of appointments or posts for the backward classes. Also, such classification “would help the more backward classes otherwise those of the Backward Classes who might be a little more advanced than the More Backward Classes might walk away with all the seats.” 

Can Reservation based on class be termed as Reasonable Classification?

A classification can be called reasonable when the law made by the legislature makes distinct and rational differences between people or groups of people. The Supreme Court in the case of Saurabh Chaudhary v. Union of India laid down the test for reasonable classification.

  • The classification must be based on rational and create intelligible differentia thus distinguishing groups.
  • The classification must fulfill the object that is to be achieved with the legislation.

The main justification for reservation is that it tries to compensate for the past discrimination faced by some of the classes. Its objective is to provide socio-economic equality. So, is the reservation policy in India achieving its objective?  How long will it take to reach its goal?

No reservations?

The reservation system in India is such that it has further increased the gap between different classes of society. Also, because of this many people belonging to the Scheduled classes are looked down upon by the people belonging to the general category and even the OBCs. So, this shows that the objective of the reservation policy to provide self-respect to the people belonging to the SC or ST is not holding true. The policy is however uplifting the people belonging to these classes economically but not socially.

The reservation system in India is further acting as a system of divide and rule by various political parties. Such instances are often witnessed during elections when politicians promise to include or increase the quota of a particular caste. Thus, the caste system has perpetrated deep into our system.

Reservations based on economic condition

So, does reservations based on income abolish caste-based discrimination?

After implementing the reservation policy based on caste, the powerful people have become more powerful but those who are suppressed are still leading their lives in the same manner. Today, even many people belonging to the general category are suffering a poor life. So, reservation based on income would justify and even uplift the people from various sections of the society without discriminating based on caste or religion. Even the Supreme Court in the case of Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta held that the people belonging to the creamy layer should be excluded from the reserved categories of SCs and STs.

The government through the One Hundred and twenty fourth (124th) amendment bill introduced the provision for ten percent (10%) reservation for people belonging to the Economically Weaker Sections of the Society (EWS) for admission in educational institutions. This is a commendable step but the same should be seen to be properly implemented.


Reservations based on caste are destroying the integrity of India and the same should be done away with. To uplift the people of India, they should be provided with quality education and fair and just reservations must be ensured. This would in the true sense empower Indians socially, educationally, and economically.


  • [i] MP JAIN, 6th ed.2010 Pg 1004.
  • [ii] V.N. Shukla Constitution of India, (Luckow: Eastern Book Company)2007 p38.

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