What is Reservation Policy, History, Meaning, Constitutional mandate

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Reservation is a form of affirmative and supportive action taken by the government, where some seats and posts in private and government institutes governance and legislature, employment and other public goods and services are reserved for socially and educationally backward communities, castes and tribes. Reservation occupies an important place in our Indian Constitution. It was provided under the Constitution to help the deprived section of the society. The main purpose of reservation policy was to rectify the situation created by historical social and caste system and the economic deprivation, which is the reason for the backwardness of the marginalised sections of the country.

In simple terms, it is about facilitating access to seats in the government jobs, educational institutions and even legislatures to certain sections of the population These sections have faced historical injustice due to their caste identity. As a quota based affirmative action, the reservation can also be seen as positive discrimination Before 2019, the reservation was provided mainly on the basis of social and educational backwardness.

Historical Background

Historically, William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882 originally conceived the idea of caste-based reservation system. The reservation system that exists today, in its true sense, was introduced in 1933 when British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald presented the ‘Communal Award. The award made the provision for separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Dalits. Later, Poona Pact was signed by Gandhi and Ambedkar that provided for a single Hindu electorate with certain reservations in it.

After Independence, Constitution of India provided for the reservation of seats for SCs and STs in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on the basis of population ratios. The initial reservations were only for SCs and STs under Article 15(4) and 16(4). OBCs were included in the ambit of reservation in 1991 as per the recommendations of Mandal Commission under Article 15(5). In 2019, Economically Weaker Sections were also provided with reservation under the Article 15(6) and 16(6) through 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act.

Constitutional Mandate

The Preamble of our Constitution proclaims the resolution of people of India to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular and Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

The concept of equality, enshrined in the Preamble has also found expression as a Fundamental Right in Article 14 to 18. The following constitutional provisions cover enhancement of the social and educational advancements of the deprived sections are

• Article 15 (4) of the Constitution puts an obligation on the state to frame any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

• Article 16 (4) ensures participation of backward classes in employments or posts or appointments to public offices in the state, if they are not adequately represented

• Article 46 of the Constitution states that “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”.

• Articles in the Part XVI of the Indian Constitution deal with reservation for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Anglo-Indians in the State legislative assemblies, Lok Sabha and District Autonomous Councils.

• Article 334 specifies the duration for which reservation is to be applicable.

• Article 338 provides for a National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Article 338A and 338B provide National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and National Commission for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) respectively with a purpose to provide safeguards against the exploitation and to promote and protect their social, educational, economic and cultural interests.

103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 2019

The Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) class within the unreserved category was created in 2019 by the Union Government in order to provide benefits to the economically backward sections and classes of the country. Consequently, the 103rd Constitutional, Amendment Act was enacted in 2019 to ensure 10% reservation for them taking the tally to 59.5% in Central educational institutes and public employment. Thus, after the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, economic backwardness is also considered for providing reservation.

Why Reservation Policy Needs Review?

The system of reservations in education has caused division of the student community on caste-basis much like it has divided the society on same terms. Instead of having the feeling of coming from one nation, students mostly pay loyalties to their caste-based identities. Students who put in their best to make it to the merit list of reputable institutes are disheartened if they fail to get an admission. They get discouraged and depressed and such situations lead to frustration.

Reservation policies in India have consistently attracted outrage from some sections of the society. Jats, the dominant community, spread over Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh who already have reservation in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh wanted inclusion in the centre’s OBC list as well. The Central government had given them this status but the decision was struck down by the Supreme Court on 2018.

Contrastingly, the Maratha Reservation Quota act which provides for 16% Some of the reasons why the policy needs review are to Maratha community in State of Maharashtra was upheld by the Bombay High Court in 2019, though it sought reduction in the quota. Rajput in Rajasthan, Kapus in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and Patel Patidars in Gujarat are among many others in the list of those demanding reservations in the various categories

• Reservation destroys self-respect, so much so that competition is no longer on to determine the best but the most backward.

• Reservations are the biggest enemy of meritocracy which is the foundation of many progressive countries.

• It has become a tool to meet narrow political ends through invoking class loyalties and primordial identities.

• The dominant and elite class within the backward castes has appropriated the benefits of reservation and the most marginalised within the backward castes have remained marginalised.

Though, caste-based reservation will help the backward students to get equal opportunities, reservation in higher educational institutions will affect not only the quality of the education but the standard of the institutions and the overall development of the country as well. Caste-based reservation only helps politicians to create vote banks.


Reservation is fair; as far as it provides appropriate positive discrimination for the benefit of the downtrodden and economically backward sections of the society. However, when it tends to harm the society and ensures privileges to some at the cost of others for narrow political ends, it should be done away with, as soon as possible. When more people aspire for backwardness rather than of forwardness, the country itself stagnates. Meritocracy should not be polluted by injecting relaxation of entry barriers, rather than it should be encouraged by offering financial aid to the underprivileged. A strong political will is indispensable to find equilibrium between justice to the backwards, equity for the forwards and efficiency for the entire system.

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