BlogConstitutional Law

Indra Sawhney vs Union of India & Ors.


Indra Sawhney vs Union of India (Reservation in India)

Citation: AIR 1993 SC 477, 1992 Supp 2 SCR 454

Bench: M. Kania, M. Venkatachaliah, S.R. Pandian, A.M. Ahmadi, K. Singh, S.B. Sawant, R. Sahai, B.J. Reddy, T.K. Thommen

Judgement Date: November 16, 1992

Acts Involved: Article 15(4), 16(1), 16(4), 340(1) of the Constitution of India

Cases Referred:

Devadason vs Union of India AIR 1964 SC 179

Balaji vs State of Mysore AIR 1963 SC 649

State of Kerala vs N.M. Thomas AIR 1976 SC 490


The Union Government led by Prime Minister Morarji Desai in January 1979 formed the Second Backward Classes Commission, popularly known as Mandal Commission under article 340 of the Constitution of India. The motive of this commission was to identify ‘socially and educationally backward classes’ of India.

Mandal Commission submitted its report to the government in December 1980. It had identified as many as 3743 socially and educationally backward classes in the nation. The commission recommended a 27% reservation in government jobs for people belonging to these classes.

Later that year, the government collapsed as a result of internal tussles in the Janata Party. Then came the Congress party, under Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi, into power. It did not implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.

Then in 1989, Janata Party came back to power defeating the Congress Party. The government took no time to issue Office Memoranda to implement the Mandal Commission’s report.

A number of people lost their lives as a result of the anti-reservation protests that were triggered because of the implementation of the report. The nation remained disturbed for the next three months.

The Supreme Court Bar Association filed a writ petition in the Apex Court in October 1990 challenging the validity of the newly formed law. The operation of the OM was stayed by the five-judge bench until the final disposal of the case. Meanwhile, the government collapsed once again because of the intra-party rivalries.

However, the newly elected government, led by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, issued a new OM in September 1991. It introduced the economic basis in granting reservation. The law gave preference to the poorer sections of the SEBCs. They were given 27% quota in the reserved bar and another 10% was reserved for economically backward people of the upper caste.

Issues Raised:

  • Whether Article 16(4) is an exception to Article 16(1).
  • If economic criteria could not constitute a backward class u/a 16(4) of the Constitution, would the reservation of posts based on the economic basis be covered u/a 16(1)?
  • Whether the classification between backward class into backward or most backward class valid or not?
  • Would the reservation for backward classes be limited to initial appointment or extend to the promotions as well?


The Constitution bench comprising judges, in a 6:3 mandate, held that-

  1. The caste system, and not the economic basis, can be used to identify the backward class of citizens under Article 16(4) of the Constitution.
  2. Article 16(4) is not an exception of Article 16(1). In other words, the reservation can be made u/a 16(1) as well.
  3. Backward classes u/a 16(4) were different from socially and economically backward classes u/a 16(1).
  4. Reservation shall not exceed 50%. To clarify, the court struck down the 10% reservation for economically backward of the upper caste. However, it upheld the constitutional validity of the 27% quota for SEBCs of the poorer sections, provided-
  • The creamy layer among the other backward classes (OBCs) must not be given the beneficiaries of the reservation.
  • Reservation should be limited to appointments only. In short, no reservation in promotions. The court, however, ordered the government to continue reservation in promotions for five subsequent years only.
  • The carry forward rule in backlog vacancies was valid, but only under the 50% bar.
  • A statutory body should be established to examine the complaints of under and over-inclusion in the list of OBCs.

Leave a Reply